Formally ending what little mystery remained over the government’s intentions in People v. Scott Dekraai, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that his office will seek the death penalty if the case proceeds to a punishment phase.
In October 2011, Dekraai committed Orange County’s worst mass shooting at a Seal Beach salon, killing eight and wounding one.
“The tragic event has caused so much harm to far too many families,” Becerra said in a press release. “After weighing all the evidence, considering the law and the responsibilities of my office, I have concluded that the appropriate course of action is to seek the death penalty in this case.”
As Weekly readers know, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens took a slam dunk capital case—one in which Dekraai had immediately confessed—and turned it into the region’s most alarming criminal justice mess known nationally as the Orange County jailhouse snitch scandal.
The Rackauckas/Hutchens fiasco centers on their agencies’ unconstitutional efforts with informants to secretly guarantee the state could execute Dekraai, actions that have stalled the case for nearly five years and prompted revelations of local law enforcement’s systemic cheating to put people in prison.
At least 15 murder and attempted murder convictions have been overturned in the wake of the revelations.
Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, a former homicide prosecutor, recused Rackauckas from Dekraai in March 2015 because he didn’t have confidence prosecutors would act ethically after defending several jail deputies who violated the law, committed perjury and hid key records.
(The sheriff, DA and the AG’s office have refused to punish the offending deputies even though Goethals has formally labeled them liars.)
In December, some surviving family members of the Seal Beach massacre announced at a press conference that they were incensed by the government misconduct and asked the attorney general’s office, which had assumed control of the case, to seek a punishment of life in prison without the possibility for parole so that proceedings could end.
Goethals is planning upcoming special evidentiary hearings that could include Hutchens’ testimony on why she spent more than three years disobeying his lawfully issued discovery orders in Dekraai.
Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Becerra, a Los Angeles congressional democrat, to the attorney general post earlier this year after Kamala Harris won a seat in the U.S. Senate.