SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office Monday released the results of an internal investigation that found the two prosecutors assigned to the Scott Dekraai murder case “committed malpractice due to intentional negligence” in the use of a confidential informant.
The report stated that the prosecutors were so fearful that Dekraai would try a defense of insanity and avoid the death penalty they improperly used a confidential informant to gain incriminating comments from the defendant while the two were jailed together.
Sources said Dekraai bragged about the killings to the confidential informant, saying he felt like he was “in the matrix,” a reference to the film, when he went on his killing spree targeting his ex-wife and friends at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach following a hearing on child custody that went against him in family law court. Eight people died, and a ninth person survived the Oct. 12, 2011, attack.
A main issue in Dekraai’s prosecution was whether confidential informant Fernando Perez was directed to question Dekraai as a government operative, which would be against the law because a defendant cannot be questioned if they are already represented by defense counsel. Perez claimed in testimony he overheard Dekraai’s comments regarding the murders, which would have been OK.
The informant scandal ultimately led then-Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to remove the death penalty as a punishment for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to the salon massacre and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and led to plea deals in other murder cases that allowed killers to walk free — including one who avoided a life sentence.
The report also found that there was “insufficient evidence to determine prosecutorial misconduct or malpractice in the five other cases where confidential informants were also utilized” and that the D.A.’s office “has implemented significant reforms to address the deficiencies involving the use of confidential informants.”
But Dekraai’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, panned the report.
“This was not the report that was needed for those most affected by years of informant-related misconduct — defendants,” Sanders said. “It identifies the misconduct in the Dekraai case by prosecutors no longer employed by the office, including Dan Wagner — misconduct already found to have occurred years ago by trial and appellate courts. No other current or past prosecutors or prosecutions are called out.”
Both prosecutors in the Dekraai case, Dan Wagner and Scott Simmons, retired in December.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)