By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A Superior Court judge ruled today that defense attorneys can continue pressing their case that the Orange County District Attorney's Office should be removed from prosecuting the man accused of the worst mass killing in the county's history.
County and state prosecutors tried to convince Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals that defense attorneys have failed to meet a legal threshold for a hearing on whether the District Attorney's Office should be removed from prosecuting Scott Evans Dekraai. Defense attorneys have accused county prosecutors of misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants.
Goethals is considering three motions: one alleging that Dekraai's rights were violated in the way a jailhouse informant collected evidence against him, another requesting that the death penalty be removed as a possible sentence for Dekraai and the third is a request to recuse the District Attorney's Office from Dekraai's case.
Goethals said he will rule on all three motions at the end of an evidentiary hearing that is expected to conclude in April.
The first witness to testify today was an informant known as "Inmate F," who is in federal custody in the witness protection program. Orange County prosecutors were unsuccessful in keeping his name under wraps out of fear the Mexican Mafia wants to kill him [Patch is declining to identify him].
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who wrote a 500-plus page motion alleging government misconduct in the handling of jailhouse informants tasked with gathering evidence for prosecutors, quizzed the informant about why he helped investigators while in custody.
Inmate F testified he was convicted in 2009 of gun and drug possession with gang enhancements and is awaiting sentencing, while also awaiting trial on another case.
Sanders repeatedly asked him if he was promised a break in his punishment in exchange for helping investigators against other inmates. The informant said he hoped prosecutors "would take into consideration what I've done," but, "nothing's ever been promised to me."
Inmate F, who said he was a "shot caller" for a Mexican Mafia gang while in custody, testified he had an epiphany while in "the hole" one day. He said he was siding with Armando "Mando" Moreno in a power struggle over the Mexican Mafia with Peter Ojeda, he testified.
"I was tired of living in fear. I was just tired," Inmate F said.
The informant allegedly heard Dekraai talking about his case, and prosecutors want to use the evidence in the penalty phase of his trial if Dekraai is convicted of killing eight people at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach.
Sanders argued that the informant was housed near Dekraai in a way to make it appear it was a coincidence and got the defendant to talk about the killings.
Sanders, who also represents Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who is facing the death penalty for a dismemberment murder, has made similar allegations in that case and is seeking to have the ultimate punishment removed as an option in that case as well.
Sanders' motion also alleges misconduct in multiple cases involving state and federal crackdowns on Mexican Mafia-led violence in Orange County jails dubbed Operation Black Flag and Operation Smokin' Aces. Goethals on Friday removed the lead prosecutor on those cases, Erik Petersen, from one of those cases for failing to hand over possible exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys in a jail-beating case.
In a rare move, the judge found that Petersen made a so-called Brady violation, named after a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to receive any and all evidence that may prove innocence.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, who is prosecuting Dekraai, said earlier that Sanders' motion was "filled with untruths."
Wagner and Petersen are expected to be called to testify in the hearing.