By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
An Orange County Superior Court judge today said he will decide next week whether to split the two phases of a trial of the man accused of carrying out the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals has been hearing testimony from a former jailhouse informant, known as Inmate F, in a bid by Scott Evans Dekraai's attorneys to have the Orange County District Attorney's Office removed from the case based on allegations that the prosecution misused jail snitches to collect evidence.
The defense attorneys also want Goethals to drop the death penalty as an option against Dekraai, who is accused of killing eight people at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach.
Last month, Goethals raised the possibility of the rare separation of Dekraai's trial -- holding the so-called guilt phase first and the penalty phase with a separate jury later. Dekraai's trial had been scheduled to begin Monday, but the misconduct allegations have forced a delay.
A trial to determine Dekraai's guilt would not take much time, Goethals said. Dekraai's attorneys have said he is willing to plead guilty and receive a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if prosecutors stop seeking the death penalty.
"Frankly, it seems to me that a guilt-phase trial wouldn't take more than week or two at most," Goethals said. "So, I'm thinking perhaps June the 9th (for the trial's start)."
If convicted, a separate jury could be called to consider whether Dekraai should be kept in prison for the rest of his life or be executed.
"Now we're not just floating the idea," Goethals said of the split death penalty trial. "It's a serious proposal and one I really like the sound of."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will raise any concerns they have about splitting up the process on Monday morning. In the afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner will be called to testify about the gathering of evidence against Dekraai by Inmate F.
The informant finished testifying Thursday. Dekraai's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, spent the bulk of the week grilling the one-time informant, who is now in federal witness protection, about how he gathered evidence against Dekraai, as well as against another defendant facing the death penalty and Mexican Mafia members in the county's jails.
Sanders filed a 500-plus page legal motion alleging prosecutors and sheriff's officials collected evidence in a way that violated the constitutional rights of Dekraai and others.
Inmate F testified today that he showed Dekraai how he could used a "shaved-down spoon," to hold open a sink spigot of warm water for bathing, known in inmate parlance as "birdbathing." A grateful Dekraai, who had been denied a shower for some time, called him a "magician," the informant testified.
Sanders questioned Inmate F about asking Dekraai what he discussed with his attorney, which would be a violation of the accused killer's rights. The informant said he "didn't really care" what Dekraai told his attorney and added, "it was none of my business."
Inmate F claimed Dekraai volunteered information about the Salon Meritage rampage.
Sanders asked him if it bothered him to "betray (Dekraai's) trust," by snitching on him to authorities.
"A little bit," he replied.
The informant claimed earlier he had an epiphany while he was in isolation in June 2010 that he wanted out of the gang life and soon after began cooperating with authorities.
Inmate F was a shot-caller for the Mexican Mafia and served on a committee of inmates that would recommend targets on hit-lists, called "hard candy" lists.
One of his "closest allies," Leonel Vega, wanted to put Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen on a hard-candy list, Inmate F testified.
Vega, also known as "Downer," was the "right-hand man" of Armando "Mando" Moreno, who lost a power struggle for control of the Mexican Mafia with "The Old Man," Peter Ojeda, who authorities say still calls the shots from a federal prison. Inmate F also backed Moreno, he testified.
When Vega told Inmate F he was "pissed off at the DA and he was planning to kill him," the informant called his handlers, he testified.
"He even told me what kind of car he drove," he testified.
Petersen is also on Sanders' witness list and is expected to testify in the hearing. Goethals removed Petersen from a jail-beating case on Friday due to a finding that he improperly withheld evidence from defense attorneys.
Sanders also plans to have Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy testify. Murphy is prosecuting another Sanders client, Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who is charged with killing two people and dismembering one of his victims.
--City News Service