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The snitch scandal at the Orange County District Attorney's Office is nearly over, but it won't bring relief for the mass murderer whose attorneys brought the scandal to light.
Scott Dekraai is the man who walked into a Seal Beach salon in 2011 and opened fire, murdering eight people. He pleaded guilty in May, but the death penalty is still on the table, despite the best efforts of his public defender, Scott Sanders, and a scandal in the district attorney's office.
The "Inmate F" snitching scandal, which we covered earlier this year, has already led to one reversed conviction and harsh criticism by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who denied the defense's request to take the death penalty off the table and recuse the D.A.'s office from the case, reports the Orange County Register.
The veteran informant, now identified as alleged Mexican Mafia member Fernando Perez, is one of a handful of informants that sheriff's deputies routinely shuffled around the jail in order to get intelligence on fellow inmates. According to the Register, prosecutors and investigators argued that they merely instructed Perez to listen, not to interrogate.
Judge Goethals, however, compared it to letting a dog loose in a butcher shop: "When released, that dog is going to eat," he wrote.
As we recounted in our previous coverage, Perez repeatedly questioned Dekraai after the right to counsel attached, a textbook Massiah violation. Judge Goethals agreed with that argument, but limited the remedy to the exclusion of any statements made to Perez.
Why the limited remedy? Among Judge Goethals findings were that the placement of Perez next to Dekraai seemed to be coincidence rather than conspiracy, and that the general misconduct appears to be of the negligent, rather than malicious, variety.
"The court further finds that the misconduct was the product of woefully inadequate legal training, along with a lack of professional energy and strategic imagination," Goethals wrote.
But Judge Goethals also limited the ruling to this case, as the misconduct outlined in the 505-page motion to take the death penalty off the table, and the 91-page motion to recuse the entire Orange County D.A.'s office, covered a lot more than the Dekraai case. For example, Leonel Vega, who was convicted of murder, will receive a new trial after the prosecutor failed to turn over 200 pages of an informant's notes. Others seem likely to follow, if Judge Goethals' words are any indication.
"It is not the appropriate function of this court at this time to attempt to fashion a global remedy related to all of the prosecutorial misconduct issues raised by the evidence it has heard," Goethals wrote. Instead, things will proceed on a case-by-case basis. Goethals said that the excuses for not turning over evidence -- workload, misinterpretation of the law, etc. -- were unacceptable, and that some of the officers were "credibility challenged," recounts the Register.
"Some perhaps suffered from a failure of recollection," Goethals wrote. "Others undoubtedly lied."
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the Register that the office has already made some changes in light of the issues surfaced in the scandal. Overworked attorneys in the gang unit may see their caseloads reduced, and an office-wide training a month ago covered their legal obligations.
Still, Rackauckas believes that no one in his office lied under oath, and was relieved that there was no finding of intentional misconduct. Dekraii's attorney, Scott Sanders, argued that "Without a stronger sanction, really, the message is that this can continue."
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