Constitutional Law

California judge boots Orange County DA's office from murder case because of withheld evidence

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A California judge has booted the Orange County district attorney’s office from a high-profile multiple murder case, citing a “chronic failure” to turn over prosecution evidence to the defense.

Scott Dekraai last year pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the 2011 slayings of his wife and seven other people in and around a Seal Beach hair salon. However, it has not been determined whether he should get a life sentence or the death penalty.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said the failure by the DA’s office to turn over exculpatory evidence had violated Dekraai’s right to due process. The judge, however, has refused a defense argument that the death penalty should be taken off the table as a consequence, the Huntington Beach Independent reports.

Scott Sanders is Dekraai’s public defender. He contends that government officials intentionally housed his client next to a prolific jailhouse informer, then lied for years about what they had done and the information they obtained as a result.

The DA’s office has acknowledged a delay in turning over some material to the defense, but says Dekraai hasn’t been harmed, especially because his case wasn’t tried by a jury, the newspaper notes.

“We don’t feel that what has happened over at the jail has any bearing on his ability to receive a fair penalty phase,” said prosecutor Howard Gundy.

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