D.A. denies misconduct in Seal Beach mass shooting case

An Orange County prosecutor says an effort to dismiss the death penalty against alleged Seal Beach mass killer Scott Dekraai should be denied because the defense failed to show that prosecutors engaged in the type of egregious misconduct that could lead to dismissal.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephan Sauer filed the reply this week to a lengthy motion made by Dekraai’s attorneys in January, which accused county prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies of running an illegal jailhouse informant operation that ensnared multiple inmates, including Dekraai, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals said he expects to start hearing testimony on the accusations on March 18.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who represents Dekraai, has also asked the judge to recuse the Orange County district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case.

“These are serious motions that are going to take some time to resolve,” Goethals said.

Dekraai is charged with shooting and killing eight people and injuring a ninth at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach in October 2011.

Among the defense’s allegations, Sanders says the district attorney’s office oversaw an “unchecked and lawless custodial informant program” that resulted in systemic constitutional violations and kept defense attorneys in the dark about so-called jailhouse snitches.

Sanders’ 505-page motion alleges that a seasoned informant referred to as Inmate F, whose real name is Fernando Jose Perez, was deliberately placed next to Dekraai in order to elicit statements from him while he was in jail and that the prosecution team worked to conceal information about Perez from the defense.

The motion alleges similar conduct in other cases involving Perez and another informant named Oscar Moriel.

Sanders also alleged that prosecutors submitted a false and misleading search warrant affidavit and intentionally ignored a court order in order to obtain Dekraai’s psychological records.

Those allegations and others in the defense motion are false, Sauer wrote in his reply.

“The Dekraai team’s actions with respect to the jailhouse informant (Inmate F) were not designed to invade defendant’s 6th Amendment rights. The Dekraai team did not intentionally conceal evidence from the defense,” he wrote.

The unusual motion is already having ripple effects in other Orange County court cases, including the trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who faces the death penalty for allegedly killing two Orange Coast College students in 2010. Sanders also represents Wozniak.

Sauer limited his response mostly to those allegations specific to the Dekraai case.

“We anticipate the evidence will show that no one on the Dekraai team was fully aware of Inmate F’s prior history as a jailhouse informant when … they decided to use him as an informant,” he wrote.

In a declaration included with the replies, Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner, who is prosecuting Dekraai, said his initial decision not to turn over certain information about Perez to the defense was “not due to some nefarious plot to conceal evidence of a system-wide conspiracy to violate the 6th Amendment rights of inmate defendants.”

Instead, he said, it was a failure to predict what would be required under case law.

“In retrospect,” he wrote, “I now believe my legal reasoning was flawed.”

Twitter: @PalomaEsquivel

Esquivel writes for the Los Angeles Times.