Saying it would be "unconscionable perhaps even cowardly" to ignore Orange County law enforcement's "chronic" corruption exposed during a controversial murder case, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals today removed the death penalty as a punishment option, prompting gasps in a packed Santa Ana courtroom.
"This court finds that [Tony Rackauckas' Orange County District Attorney's office and Sandra Hutchens' sheriff department] are unwilling or unable to comply with lawfully issued orders," Goethals said during a 38-minute hearing in People v. Scott Dekraai where he repeatedly spoke about the importance of the rule of law in the criminal justice system.
"No agency is above the law," the judge, a former homicide prosecutor, said.
With a bank of Los Angeles-based TV news cameras nearby, Goethals took the opportunity to ridicule the Orange County Grand Jury's June report dismissing the snitch scandal as imaginary.
"The [sheriff's tainted] informant program is not a 'myth,'" he said.
Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Murphy, who assumed prosecution duties in the case after the judge recused Rackauckas and his entire office, was left dumbfounded that he lost his argument that allowing a future jury to order the execution of Dekraai was far more important than holding Orange County law enforcement accountable for corruption.
Though they didn't gloat, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders and his colleague on the case, Sara Ross, applauded Goethals' punishment ruling as appropriate and said their client regrets the pain he caused.
Meanwhile, the sheriff and DA issued lame press releases stating their disappointment and, as usual, pretending that the judge hadn't witnessed four years of remorseless perjury and evidence hiding by badged individuals.
But county Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a former prosecutor and Republican state Assemblyman, reacted to the historic ruling by calling for Hutchens and Rackauckas to resign before the end of their elected terms in office because of their "reprehensible" conduct.
"I am incredulous that the Orange County criminal justice system has earned a national reputation for corruption that will take years, if not decades, to repair," Spitzer said in a press statement.
Goethals announced his intention to give Dekraai, who murdered eight people at a Seal Beach salon in Oct. 2011, the maximum remaining punishment: eight consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I hope he dies a forgotten man in some obscure maximum prison," he said about 47-year-old Dekraai, who sat silently.
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Sentencing is tentatively set for Sept. 22.
It's unclear if officials will appeal.
Here's the judge's 19-page ruling: