Thomas Goethals

Judge Questions Sheriff's Department's Knowlege in Mishandling of OC Mass Killer Case

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals wanted to know why the department has not handed over information he asked for years ago

A judge on Tuesday weighed sanctions against the Orange County Sheriff's Department for its possible role in the mishandling of the case against the worst mass killer in the county's history.

At Tuesday's hearing, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals wanted to know why the department has not handed over information he asked for years ago.

The case against Scott Dekraai began in 2011, when he shot and killed eight people at the Salon Meritage. Three years later, he pleaded guilty to the crime.

A so-called snitch scandal arose as Dekraai sat in jail. That scandal resulted in the Orange County District Attorney's Office being removed from the case, accused of illegally using jailhouse informants to obtain evidence against Dekraai and violating his constitutional rights in the process.

"We are in uncharted legal territory," Goethals said Tuesday, talking about outrageous government conduct and chronic abuse as he worked to unravel what the sheriff's department knew about the use of the informants.

But the families of Dekraai's victims say they're tired of the constant trips to court and that the misconduct inquiries should be separated from the murder case.

"It's really not about our case anymore," said Hattie Stretz, whose daughter was killed by Dekraai and who herself was hit during the shooting. "There's nothing ever said about our case or any of the victims that were taken."

In court, a sheriff's lieutenant testified that he was never aware of recruiting practices inside the jail.

Goethals may hear from two dozen witnesses, including commanders, lieutenants, sergeants and deputies when they're back in court Thursday. In the meantime, there are multiple investigations underway by the grand jury, the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the end of the hearing, Goethals will decide if he will take the death penalty off the table against Dekraai as punishment for the way the case was handled.

Family members of the victims, though, just want the case to end.

"My daughter, she'll never come back," Stretz said. "I just want it to be over for all of us."

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