Attorney General Kamala Harris is in favor of renewing the ban on assault rifles. She addresses a crowd of about 120 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Laguna Beach. Harris and Loretta Sanchez are campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat. ///ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Harris.0129.cy 01/28/16– CINDY YAMANAKA, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Attorney General Kamala Harris hugs supporters as she makes a campaign stop in Loretta Sanchez's backyard at the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship in Laguna Beach.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is talking a lot these days in her bid to become a U.S. senator, but one subject she’s not mentioning is her complex role in Orange County’s highest-profile criminal case – the penalty phase in the trial of confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai. (Cindy Yamanaka – File)

By Tony Saavedra / Staff Writer
June 1, 2016 – Updated 10:10 p.m.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is talking a lot these days in her bid to become a U.S. senator, but one subject she’s not mentioning is her complex role in Orange County’s highest-profile criminal case – the penalty phase in the trial of confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai.

Nearly 16 months after an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered Harris’ office to take over Dekraai’s prosecution, the case remains in limbo.

Two actions – an appeal of the judge’s order and a separate investigation of county prosecutors, both led by Harris’ office – figure to delay the case for years.

Harris’ actions raise the specter that the misuse of jailhouse informants by prosecutors in Orange County could, in a small way, play a role in the state race for Senate.

Dekraai has admitted killing eight people in a 2011 shooting at a hair salon in Seal Beach, the most lethal mass murder in county history.

Last year, as prosecutors and defense lawyers argued whether Dekraai should face the death penalty, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled that the Orange County District Attorney should be removed from the case because the office could no longer be trusted to be fair.

Goethals’ ruling came after he determined that local sheriff’s deputies either lied or willfully withheld information about jailhouse informants.

Relatives of Dekraai’s victims say any delay in his punishment means, for them, extended pain and fear.

But while Harris’ roles in the case might be key reasons for the delay, the victims’ relatives blame others for the slow pace of justice.

“The OCDA and the Sheriff’s Department both got greedy on an open-and-shut case,” said Beth Webb, whose sister was killed in the rampage.

“This is going to be in the courts for the next 20 years because of the appeals.”

Nobody disputes that the technical causes for the delay in Dekraai’s case stem from separate and potentially contradictory actions undertaken by Harris’ office.

First, a week after Goethals’ ordered the state to step in as the lead prosecutor, Harris filed an appeal to block that ruling, a move all parties knew would put the Dekraai case on hold.

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