Report: Prosecutors mishandled California mass murder case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California prosecutors committed malpractice and were negligent in their use of a jailhouse snitch in the case of a man convicted of killing his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011, the Orange County district attorney concluded in a report released Monday.

District Attorney Todd Spitzer said prosecutors in his office showed signs of engaging in misconduct in the way they handled the case of Scott Dekraai, a former tugboat operator, who is serving life in prison for the county’s largest mass killing.

The review found prosecutors broke the law by using a longtime snitch to get a tainted confession from Dekraai, did not properly disclose that information to a defense lawyer and did not accept responsibility for their lapses.

“Prosecutors handling People v. Dekraai violated discovery laws and rulings from the court, trampled defendant rights, and denied the full imposition of justice for the victims and their families,” Spitzer’s office said.

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Dekraai’s lawyer, Scott Sanders, unearthed the use of the snitch in what became known as the “jailhouse informant scandal.” It extended far beyond just the salon shooting case and involved law enforcement planting jail informants to seek confessions from defendants who weren’t supposed to be questioned without a lawyer present.

The move ultimately backfired on prosecutors, who wanted Dekraai executed. The Orange County district attorney’s office was removed from the case and the trial judge prevented prosecutors from seeking the death penalty because their failure to turn over informant-related records jeopardized the killer’s right to a fair trial.

Dekraai was in a bitter custody dispute with this ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, when he walked into Salon Meritage where she worked wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying three guns.

He shot and killed Fournier, then gunned down the salon owner, stylists and customers and a man sitting in his car in the parking lot. He was arrested within minutes of the rampage.

Dekraai pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight life terms with no chance of parole.

Sanders said the report simply blamed two prosecutors no longer with the office but failed to address the pattern of abuse he found in the use of informants by prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies that is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“It accurately identifies the misconduct by the Dekraai prosecutors and then completely ignores the decades of misconduct involving jailhouse informants,” Sander said. “It’s a great headline grabber, but the problem is that no other prosecutor is identified as doing anything wrong. … We know this has been going on for decades.”

Spitzer launched the internal review last year after the state attorney general, who took over prosecution of the case, closed a criminal investigation into the informant scandal without conclusions or recommendations.

Spitzer ousted longtime District Attorney Tony Rackauckas in 2018, criticizing the use of informants during the campaign and promising to reform the office.

Although Sanders estimated there were 20 cases where informants were used and federal prosecutors are looking into 100 cases, the DA’s office found insufficient evidence to determine there was prosecutorial misconduct in five cases it reviewed.

The report did not name the two veteran prosecutors who handled the Dekraai case, Dan Wagner and Scott Simmons, but said both had resigned and couldn’t be punished.

It said evidence of malpractice and intentional negligence by the two would have required severe discipline if they had remained with the office. It suggested they could still be punished by state authorities.

Neither of the lawyers, who are now in private practice together, immediately returned an email seeking comment.

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