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Legal Wranglings in Dekraai Case Should Wind Down in a Few More Days

The defense alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy to violate the rights of multiple Orange County defendants, including Seal Beach mass murderer Scott Dekraai.

Legal Wranglings in Dekraai Case Should Wind Down in a Few More Days

Originally posted at 9:55 p.m. June 24, 2014. Edited to fix typo.

City News Service

A judge overseeing a hearing on a motion alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy to violate the rights of multiple Orange County defendants, including convicted mass killer Scott Dekraai, outlined today how the lengthy proceeding will wind down with a few more days in court.

On Monday, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender's Office filed a motion asking the judge to allow testimony from two prosecutors and three sheriff's deputies, including one deputy who testified earlier in the evidentiary hearing.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled today that Sanders can call sheriff's Deputy Seth Tunstall back to the stand, but that the testimony from the two prosecutors and other deputies would be redundant.

Coincidentally, Sanders raised issues with the failure to hand over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys in an unrelated case before Goethals. Joseph Govey was arrested on a probation violation in Huntington Beach following a high-speed chase and was later accused of soliciting the murder of someone he believed got him in trouble with the law.

Goethals said he would allow Sanders to recall Tunstall as a witness because "he is the most problematic" of those who have testified in the hearings. The judge said the deputy did, or should have known, of the existence of the exculpatory evidence that Govey could not have solicited the murder with help from a white supremacist gang because that gang had kicked him out, and associates of the criminal organization tried to kill Govey with a plastic shank in a prison yard.

Sanders alleges that information was withheld for three years, even after prosecutors agreed to hand over the evidence to the defense a few months ago.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy said further testimony from Tunstill would be "impeachment on a collateral issue ... It's a way for defense counsel to talk about things that don't relate to Scott Dekraai... We're trying to close this thing down and the defense is looking for any way to expand this hearing."

Gundy said the main issue in Dekraai's case is the placement of an informant next to the convicted mass killer, which the prosecutor characterizes as "coincidental," and not a purposeful way to violate the defendant's constitutional rights by questioning him after he has established attorney- client privilege.

"Now that whole house of cards has come down," Gundy said of Sanders' allegations, which were detailed in a 500-plus motion filed earlier this year.

If Sanders cannot prove "prejudice," then Goethals cannot grant the defense's requests to have the District Attorney's Office removed from the case and have the death penalty eliminated as punishment for Dekraai, Gundy said.

Sanders, however, said Tunstall is a "critical witness" because he suspects the investigator misled a grand jury in the Govey case about his relationship with the white supremacist gang.

"If you misled a grand jury, then that's as good evidence as you're going to get in terms of impeaching a witness," Sanders said.

Goethals indicated that Sanders has raised important questions about the Govey case, but that those issues should be sorted out in that particular trial. The judge also said he sensed that Sanders' allegations will have a wide "ripple" effect.

"The ripples are tending out to other cases in our local criminal justice system," Goethals said.

In fact, the dispute has spilled over into another death penalty case. Attorneys for Richard Raymond Ramirez are seeking information about the use of another jailhouse informant who also testified before a grand jury in the Govey case. A different judge, who characterized it as a "Dekraai motion," is set to discuss it on Friday.

On Thursday, in what is considered a highly unusual move, Goethals is allowing Sanders to cross-examine former federal prosecutor-turned-Orange County Superior Court Judge Terri Flynn-Peister.

The hearing, which started in mid-March, could reach the completion of testimony on Thursday. Goethals said he would like the attorneys to file their final briefs on July 21, with closing arguments on July 25. A ruling could come down by the end of July.

Dekraai, who opened fire at a Seal Beach beauty salon where his ex-wife worked, pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in May. The penalty phase of his trial is scheduled for August.

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