Vikki Vargas, Lori Bentley
The trial for a murder in a Seal Beach salon has taken an unusual turn. The judge decided to split the trial into two phases. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 24, 2014.
The trial of a man accused in Orange County's worst mass shooting will be split into two parts in hopes of speeding up the continually delayed murder case, a judge ruled Monday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals made the unusual decision to have separate juries – one to hear the trial and a potential second for the penalty phase – in the case against Scott Dekraai, who allegedly gunned down six women and two men at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011.
Dekraai is set to go on trial June 9.
If Dekraai is convicted of carrying out the killings, the judge acknowledged there would be a significant delay to find another jury to decide whether he should receive the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If the judge agrees with a defense attorney and removes the death penalty as a sentencing option, there will be no need for a penalty phase.
Dekraai’s attorney, Scott Sanders, said his client is willing to plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty.
Sanders is also accusing prosecutors of misconduct, claiming Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner scripted an interview with a jailhouse informant to seal the case.
Family members told the judge they are frustrated with delays and with Sander’s attempts to save his client from the death penalty.
"The amount of stress and discomfort my family continues to go through by this being delayed and without the progression is devastating," said Paul Wilson, whose wife was killed that October day.
The hearing that’s underway on the alleged prosecutorial misconduct is expected to take a few more weeks.
Dekraai is accused of opening fire at Salon Meritage on Oct. 12, 2011 where his estranged wife worked and then going outside and shooting the driver of an SUV in the head through the closed front passenger side window.
Dekraai was arrested near the salon when he was pulled over by police.
It was the largest mass-murder in Orange County history, the District Attorney said.
The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report