Death penalty possible for Seal Beach salon shooter

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A judge ruled that a man who admitted to killing eight people in a Seal Beach salon shooting is eligible for the death penalty, and evidence gathered through a jailhouse informant against him can't be used during the penalty phase of his trial.

The ruling comes several months after Scott Dekraai's defense attorney filed a motion alleging government misconduct.

In 2011, Dekraai opened fire at Salon Meritage, killing the salon's owner, his ex-wife who worked at the salon and five other people. Police said Dekraai was in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife over their 8-year-old son.

On Monday, the judge found Dekraai's rights were violated when informant Fernando Perez questioned him after Dekraai already had an attorney.

The judge said many of the witnesses who testified, including current and former prosecutors and law enforcement, were "credibility challenged."

"Some perhaps suffered from a failure of recollection. Others undoubtedly lied," said Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who did not identify who he was referring to.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas denied that claim.

"It was very clear to me not a single person in my office was lying on the stand," Rackauckas said.

However, Rackauckas admitted they failed to do the proper background investigation on Perez and that prosecutors have since undergone training on proper discovery of evidence.

The judge said in his ruling the prosecutors' excuses, such as "misunderstanding the law or heavy caseloads," was unacceptable for not turning over evidence to the defense.

"It's definitely going to affect other cases. The court has talked about a lot of misconduct taking place and he identified it with a number of officers with prosecutors," Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders said.

Other defense attorneys are watching closely, concerned their clients may have been denied access to evidence.

"The District Attorney's well-documented failures in this case, although disappointing, even disheartening, to any interested member of this community, were negligent rather than malicious," judge Goethals said.

Despite the alleged misconduct, the judge said the district attorney may remain on the case.

The death penalty will also remain an option, which drew a mixed reaction from families of the victims.

"I'm glad he's eligible for the death penalty," said Paul Caouette, a victim's son.

"The judge ruled for all of our families to have two decades of appeals," Bethany Weber, a victim's sister.

Dekraai will be back in court next month.

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