SANTA ANA – Authorities covertly recorded more than 100 hours of jailhouse conversations between the Huntington Beach man charged with killing eight people in a Seal Beach salon and an informant, court documents reviewed by the Register reveal.
Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders contends in a pretrial motion that prosecutors and police installed an audio-recording device in Scott Evans Dekraai’s one-man cell Oct. 19, 2011, one week after Dekraai was charged with the deadliest mass killing in Orange County history, and recorded his conversations for six days. The informant, in custody after a weapons conviction, was in a nearby cell.
Sanders said in his motion that he is not questioning the legality of the secret recordings but is seeking to determine whether the informant initiated the conversations or enticed Dekraai into talking about his meetings with his own attorneys, the shootings or his background.
If the conversations were enticed or pre-arranged, Sanders contends in his motion, it could be a violation of Dekraai’s rights to legal representation because they took place after Dekraai was represented by a lawyer.
Sanders said he seeks additional information about the informant so he can consider filing a motion to suppress the recordings from being used as evidence at Dekraai’s trial, the court documents show.
Among other things, Sanders seeks details about any other cases on which the informant cooperated with law enforcement, any benefits he received from prosecutors and any reports or notes about his communications with Dekraai.
The informant, Sanders wrote, “has received substantial and unusual benefits” from the prosecution in exchange for his cooperation, while his investigators have been thwarted in their attempts to locate the inmate.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, one of two prosecutors assigned to the Dekraai case, said Tuesday that he does not plan to call the inmate as a witness in Dekraai’s trial, and therefore the defense is not entitled to more details about his background.
But Wagner also said he plans to use some of the 132 audio recordings as evidence during Dekraai’s death-penalty trial, including one in which Dekraai seems to brag about the killings.
“The recordings speak for themselves,” Wagner said.
Prosecutors will file a brief later this week opposing Sanders’ motion for discovery, Wagner said. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals has scheduled arguments on the motion for Jan. 25.
Sanders originally filed his motion for discovery last week. He refiled it Tuesday with the last name of the informant and personal identifying details deleted or blacked out. The Register is not publishing the name of the informantbecause of potential danger to the inmate.
Veteran defense attorney George Peters, who has defended death penalty cases in Orange County since 1981, agreed Tuesday that the issue is not whether the prosecution secretly taped Dekraai but whether the informant induced him to start talking.
“It is my understanding that you don’t have an expectation of privacy from your jail cell,” Peters said. But in a death penalty trial, Peters added, a defense attorney is obligated “to fully explore whether an informant induced a client to discuss his case.”
Dekraai, 44, is charged with eight counts of murder in the midday massacre at Salon Meritage on Oct. 12, 2011.
Witnesses told police that he walked into the salon shortly after 1 p.m. and immediately shot stylist Michelle Fournier, 47, his ex-wife, after arguing with her earlier in the day by phone over child custody.
He then shot Christy Lynn Wilson, 47, Fournier’s friend and colleague, and salon owner Randy Fannin, 61, witnesses said, before shooting others at random. Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Webb Elody, 46; and Michele Fast, 47, were shot and killed.
Harriet Stretz, 73, was shot and wounded. David Caouette, 64, was shot and killed while sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot outside the salon as the shooter was fleeing, police said.
A Seal Beach patrol officer stopped and arrested Dekraai as he drove away from the salon. “I know what I did,” Dekraai told the officer, a search warrant affidavit said.
Dekraai was indicted on eight counts of murder in January 2012. He has pleaded not guilty.
By LARRY WELBORN/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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