Audit Finds Orange County Prosecutors Botched Case Against Mass Killer

(CN) — Orange County, California, prosecutors mishandled the case against the area’s deadliest mass murderer, secretly using jailhouse snitches and violating discovery laws, according to a wide-ranging review into prosecutorial misconduct released Monday by the county’s district attorney. 

On Oct. 12, 2011, Scott Evans Dekraai donned body armor, walked into a Seal Beach hair salon and fatally shot his ex-wife Michelle Fournier, six of her co-workers and customers and one man sitting in a car outside the salon.

The incident would become Orange County’s deadliest mass shooting. A ninth victim, a woman who was also shot by Dekraai, survived the massacre. 

Law enforcement arrested Dekraai shortly after the shooting and later booked him into Orange County Jail. Then-Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas pushed for the death penalty. 

But the capital punishment strategy collapsed after information about the secret use of jailhouse informants was uncovered by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders. Sanders filed a motion laying out evidence that informants were used in violation of constitutional rights of defendants prosecuted by the DA’s office.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals agreed with Sanders, finding information about defendants and jailhouse snitches was improperly withheld from defense attorneys. The scandal resulted in new trials or new sentences in several high-profile cases.

In March 2015, Goethals barred the entire Orange County DA’s office from prosecuting the case against Dekraai. The judge found the office had a conflict of interest between its duty to justice and its loyalty to the sheriff’s department, which operates the county jail.

The California Attorney General’s Office took over prosecution. Goethals later struck the death penalty, instead sentencing Dekraai, a former tugboat operator, to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Monday’s report by a special counsel for the DA’s office found that prosecutors lacked oversight by administrators and their actions denied the victims and their families full justice through the criminal legal system.

“The lack of supervision by OCDA executives over high-profile cases including Dekraai during the prior administration resulted in OCDA prosecutors trying these cases without adequate oversight, including the lack of discussion and resolution of critical decisions such as the use of confidential informants,” the report states.

Current Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office said in a statement Monday that the use of a confidential informant in Dekraai’s case was not only unnecessary, it was “detrimental to achieving justice.”

“Prosecutors were so concerned that Dekraai would claim insanity and escape the death penalty as Edward Charles Allaway did when he committed Orange County’s largest mass murder to date in 1976 that they used a confidential informant to obtain tainted confessions from Dekraai,” Spitzer’s office said.

Investigators recommended “severe disciplinary action” against the two prosecutors at the center of the initial case. However, they resigned from their positions at the DA’s office before the investigation was completed and are now outside its purview.

The report is based on a review of thousands of pages of case files, interviews Orange County prosecutors gave to the U.S. Department of Justice, and recent interviews of current and former DA staff.

Spitzer ordered the investigation in April 2019. Shortly after, he declared all major cases would be reviewed by Orange County DA executive management. The district attorney also ordered prosecutions halted in cases where a jailhouse informant was used and said no informant would be utilized without prior approval.

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