OC Judge, Thomas Goethals, took the death penalty off the table for confessed killer Scott Evans Dekraai, 47, because he concluded law enforcement would not ensure the defendant a fair penalty trial.
Dekraai pleaded guilty to killing eight people and wounding another in an October 2011 shooting spree at a Seal Beach salon.
“This court finds the prosecution team is unable or unwilling” to provide the evidence to ensure Dekraai would get a fair trial, Goethals said. To not sanction prosecutors and the sheriff’s department would be “unconscionable and perhaps even cowardly,” causing him to consider a decision that not long ago would have been “unthinkable,” the judge added.
Goethals suggested that he intends to sentence Dekraai to eight consecutive life terms in prison.
Family members of the victims expressed their support of the judge's decision.
“I honor this judge and what it took to do an unpopular thing in Orange County, but the right thing for everyone involved here,” said Bethany Webb, whose sister was killed in the shooting rampage.
Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy died in the attack, said, “I’m happy with the decision, the feeling of relief. The fact I don’t have to worry about it any more is huge.”
The Orange County district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department expressed their disappointment in the decision: “The facts in this case clearly supported a death penalty verdict,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. “On October 12, 2011, Scott Dekraai executed and confessed to the deadliest shooting in the history of Orange County, long before he was booked into the Orange County Jail. Notwithstanding the issues that were raised by the Court’s ruling, we believe the defendant would have received a fair trial during the penalty phase of the criminal proceedings. The decision to remove the death penalty rests at the feet of Judge Goethals and nobody else.”
The ruling to remove the death penalty came more than four years of delay in the case as the judge investigated accusations that prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies withheld evidence and used a network of jailhouse informants to illegally get confessions from targeted inmates.