By REX DALTON
March 20, 2015 at 5:41 PM
The state Attorney General’s Office announced today it will conduct “an independent investigation” of alleged misconduct by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas’ office in the prosecution of mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.
In a three-paragraph statement, the office of Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said findings of “evidence discovery violations…are serious and demand further investigation.”
But at the same time, the attorney general said she would appeal the March 12 order by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals that Rackaukas’ entire staff should be recused from prosecuting Dekraai for the 2011 killing of eight people, including his ex-wife at a Seal Beach beauty salon.
In his eight-page order issued last week, Goethals described “a comedy of errors” by prosecutors as evidence repeatedly was withheld from Dekraai’s attorneys — adding that both law enforcement and a prosecutor testified dishonestly.
During an extraordinary hearing over the past year, Goethals wrote, Rackauckas’ office showed it could not balance its duties to properly provide evidence to the defense with its prosecutorial obligations — thereby creating a conflict of interest that deprived Dekraai of due process.
The DA’s office immediately disputed Goethals’ ruling and threatened to appeal, but ultimately deferred to the AG’s office, said Howard Gundy, a senior deputy DA on the Dekraai prosecution team.
The “recusal of the entire DA office is inappropriate,” said Theodore Cropley, a deputy assistant attorney general, during today’s proceedings.
After the AG’s announcement, Scott Sanders, the lead public defender for Dekraai, said: “We are looking forward to the findings of the Attorney General regarding misconduct in this case.”
For the past year, the AG’s office had an attorney every day in the courtroom “and, therefore, is already well acquainted with the deception and concealment that has plagued this case and culminated in the recusal,” Sanders added.
The appeal will further delay closure for the families of Dekraai’s victims. While Dekraai pleaded guilty last spring to the killings, he has fought for sentencing on his own terms. Sanders is seeking to block the death penalty in return for life without the possibility of parole.
The appeal means that it could be two or three years before Dekraai’s fate is decided.
This prompted some family members to sharply criticize Rackaukas personally and the court process in general during an emotionally charged hearing Friday — where victims families were allowed to address the judge.
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