Five years after a gunman opened fire in a Seal Beach salon, killing eight people, legal proceedings stemming from the largest mass killing in Orange County history remain in limbo.
The legal case is mired in allegations from suspect Scott Dekraai's attorney, who has claimed a widespread conspiracy of violating the rights of Dekraai and multiple other defendants. The accusations prompted a rare evidentiary hearing that led to Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removing the District Attorney's Office from prosecuting Dekraai.
The Attorney General's Office will argue on Monday before a panel of three California Fourth District Court of Appeal justices that the Orange County District Attorney's Office should be restored as prosecutor in the penalty phase of the trial of Dekraai, who has pleaded guilty.
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For the victims' families, the proceedings add another layer of pain.
"It just adds to the pain and suffering to every single family member," said Paul Wilson, whose wife was killed in the rampage.
The so-called "snitch scandal" revolves around the use of jailhouse informants in the case against Dekraai and multiple other defendants. Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders, has argued that his client's constitutional rights were violated in the way informants were used to obtain damning evidence against his client.
Prosecutors deny the allegations, but Goethals ruled that the District Attorney has shown too much loyalty to the Sheriff's Department, which he faulted for presenting dishonest testimony during the evidentiary hearing, so prosecutors cannot be trusted to give Dekraai a fair trial.
Wilson said he is philosophical about what Sanders is doing.
"I'm not happy he's doing that... but the guy's doing his job," Wilson said. "I would hope the district attorney would do his job. (Sanders) is getting results and they're not."
Wilson recalled how a saddened Rackauckas promised justice for him in the days following his wife's murder.
"With a tear in his eye, he promised me he would get justice," Wilson said. "He said he had my back and he would do everything possible that he would get justice and look at the track record."
Wilson, who gathered with his family for a memorial get-together before his business trip, said his thoughts often turn to happy memories of his time with his wife, who he met when he was 21. She was 47 when she was killed in the Oct. 12, 2011, ambush.
"I think of the life I had with her," Wilson said. "We did incredible things. It's an experience we had that not many people would be able to say they had. So I'm grateful for that. I know I got a lottery ticket in that experience."
He added, "I struggle with that roller coaster of emotions every day."
Wilson noted their granddaughter, who was 2 when her grandmother was murdered, doesn't understand where she's gone.
"She was 2 at the time," he said. "Now she's 7 and I can't get her to understand why she can't see Christy."
The grief "is just as bad as it was the first October," Wilson said. "There will never be closure."
Wilson is not opposed to the death penalty on principle, but with the long delays and a hold on capital punishment in California it doesn't make sense for prosecutors to pursue it in Dekraai's case, he said.
Rackauckas' chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, said she appreciates Wilson's criticism. She said prosecutors believe the only punishment suitable for Dekraai would be death.
"In this case, some of the victims still want us to proceed and not only that we believe it's our responsibility to the people of Orange County to proceed on the death penalty," Schroeder said. "There's no other penalty that even comes close in this case."
Dekraai argued with his ex-wife, 48-year-old Michelle Marie Fournier, over the phone the morning he launched his deadly attack. He'd been involved in a child support dispute with her at the time. He drove to the Salon Meritage, 500 Pacific Coast Highway, about 1:20 p.m., walked up to his ex-wife and shot her multiple times.
After he gunned down Fournier, he turned his gun on Christy Wilson because she had testified against him in a child support hearing. He was armed with three handguns, extra magazines and ammunition and was wearing a bullet- proof vest.
The shop's owner, 62-year-old Randy Lee Fannin ran up to try to stop him with a pair of scissors, so Dekraai opened fire and killed him as well.
"Dekraai then stated he started shooting random people inside the salon because he looked at them as collateral damage," authorities wrote in a legal document.
"Dekraai exited and walked to his vehicle. When he got to his vehicle, he looked in the car next to him (a green Range Rover) and saw a person sitting in the vehicle next to him. Dekraai thought the guy seated in the vehicle next to him was an off-duty or undercover police officer and thought he was reaching to his floorboard for a weapon."
Dekraai then gunned down 64-year-old David Caouette in his Range Rover. The other victims were Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, Lucia Berniece Kondas, 65, Laura Lee Elody, 46, and Michele Dashbach Fast, 47.