SANTA ANA, California — The California attorney general's office on Friday appealed a judge's decision to pull Orange County prosecutors from a death penalty case involving a mass killer, enraging victims' relatives who pleaded for a speedy resolution to the case.
Attorney General Kamala Harris' office also said it would investigate the allegations that sheriff's deputies lied or withheld information and prosecutors failed to turn over evidence about jailhouse informants that prompted Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals to yank the county district attorney's office off the case of Seal Beach salon shooter Scott Dekraai.
While the allegations are "very serious," state prosecutors don't feel the entire district attorney's office should have been removed from the case, especially because the court already imposed sanctions limiting the evidence against Dekraai, deputy attorney general Theodore Cropley said during a court hearing in Santa Ana.
The appeal could delay by a year a penalty phase to determine whether Dekraai should face a death sentence or life without parole, he said.
Relatives of the eight victims killed by Dekraai in a 2011 shooting rampage blasted the district attorney's office, public defender and legal system for the protracted delays in securing justice.
"I believed in the system. I just don't anymore, because we're fighting for his rights," said Paul Wilson, whose wife, Christy, was killed in the onslaught. "Let's march the eight people in here and ask them about their rights."
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas applauded the state's decision to appeal. He said he understood the frustration of victims' families and that the justice system needed to work faster.
Goethals' ruling followed a yearlong courtroom duel over allegations that authorities misused jailhouse informants, hid evidence and lied on the witness stand.
An extensive hearing was held after Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders, accused authorities of trying to cover up an informant program that had trained jailhouse snitches to sidle up to high-profile defendants and elicit information from them in violation of their constitutional rights.
Goethals found that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence about an informant who spoke with Dekraai and barred them from using it. After Sanders uncovered additional jail records that had not been mentioned by sheriff's deputies during their testimony about jailhouse informants, Goethals last week ruled that the district attorney's office should be removed from the case.
Sanders said he was pleased the attorney general's office would investigate "the deception and concealment that has plagued this case."
Dekraai, a former tugboat operator, had been locked in a custody dispute with his hairstylist ex-wife Michelle Fournier over their 8-year-old son when he entered Salon Meritage wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three weapons. Dekraai shot and killed Fournier before turning his guns on the salon owner, stylists and customers and a man sitting in his car in the parking lot.
Police arrested Dekraai within minutes of the rampage.