Crime & Justice

Salon Meritage Killings: Orange County DA won't use recordings from jailhouse informant (Update)

A memorial bench sits between the Salon Meritage and Patty's Place and remembers several of the victims of the brutal shooting.
A memorial bench sits between the Salon Meritage and Patty's Place and remembers several of the victims of the brutal shooting.
Ashley Myers-Turner/KPCC

The Orange County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday it will continue to seek the death penalty against the man accused in the county's worst mass killing, despite problems with some of the evidence collected against him. 

Prosecutors said in a court hearing this week that they will no longer use secretly recorded conversations between a jailhouse informant and Scott Dekraai, the man charged with killing eight people in a 2011 rampage at a Seal Beach hair salon.

Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy made the announcement during an evidentiary hearing in which Dekraai's attorney has called the use of the informant and the recordings a violation of Dekraai's constitutional rights. 

Assistant public defender Scott Sanders has asked Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals to remove the OCDA as the prosecuting agency in the case and to withhold the death penalty as an option.

RELATED: Salon Meritage Killings: Judge splits massacre trial into 2 phases

Sanders said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday night that the DA's decision not to use the tapes was "a pretty stunning series of events."  For two-and-a-half years, Sanders said, the Orange County District Attorney's Office has denied any wrongdoing and accused the defense of frivolous motions and delays.

Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff for Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas, said the decision to not use the evidence collected from the informant did not mean prosecutors are conceding there was a constitutional violation of Dekraai's rights.

Dekraai's jailhouse statements, recorded by the Orange County Sheriff's Department during hundreds of hours of conversations between Dekraai and informant Fernando Perez, had been expected to be a key part of prosecutors' push for the death penalty.
Sanders alleged that prosecutors used informants to improperly interrogate suspects in Dekraai's and many other cases, prompting Judge Goethals to hold unusual special hearings into the procedures of the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney.
Jailhouse informants can offer up information to authorities, but they are not allowed to actively question suspects who have lawyers or who have requested legal representation.
Perez, a former gang member, testified that the authorities who oversaw his informant activities in the jail told him not to actively question inmates. But Perez said authorities told him that if inmates confessed to him, he could write down what they said.
"People like to brag about their cases," Perez testified.
Sanders was seeking to have the death penalty thrown out in the case and to have the district attorney's office recuse itself, a move he says he'll still pursue, but it was not immediately clear what effect the prosecutors' concession would have on the requests.
Dekraai is charged with killing his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach salon. His oft-delayed trial is scheduled to start June 9.