Jordan Smith writes about how an unlikely alliance of a man and the lawyer who defended wife’s killer is working to expose prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County, California. Paul Wilson was initially very antagonistic towards the public defender for his dogged defense of Scott Dekraai, the man who murdered his wife Christy in the deadliest mass shooting in the county.
Christy, who worked at the salon as a manicurist, was there that day to get her hair cut by her longtime friend Michelle. When Dekraai burst through the door, Michelle was washing Christy’s hair. He was there to kill Michelle, his estranged wife, with whom he was engaged in a pitched custody battle for their 8-year-old son. He was wearing a bulletproof vest, and his pockets were loaded with extra ammunition. He was carrying several guns. He shot Michelle and then Christy and then five others in the salon. After exiting, Dekraai shot a man who was sitting in his car, then got into his pickup truck and drove away. The police quickly caught up with him. Dekraai confessed to the crime and was booked into the Orange County jail. Soon, Rackauckas would announce his intention to seek the death penalty.
Witnesses had seen Dekraai heavily armed at the scene of the shooting, and he’d confessed to the crime, so it should have been a slam dunk death case in relatively conservative Orange County. But in short order, the straightforward case would go sideways, and Wilson and the other family members would wait nearly five years to see Dekraai sentenced. It wasn’t because the evidence against him had fallen apart. Instead, it was wrongdoing on the part of the district attorney’s office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department that would hamstring justice.
Specifically, in the process of representing Dekraai, dogged public defender Scott Sanders would uncover decades of misconduct within the county’s criminal justice system — including the routine failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence to defense attorneys, and the existence of a secret jailhouse informant program designed to generate questionable evidence — that violated the constitutional rights of an unknowable number of defendants.
Wilson initially viewed Sanders as simply throwing up unnecessary roadblocks and was infuriated. But over time he became convinced that the District Attorney’s office was rife with misconduct, such as having jailhouse informants. It was so bad that the judge ordered the office to recuse itself from the case.
Wilson and Sanders have now joined up to fight the abuses and have even become freinds. But as we know only too well, the legal system protects its own and so far, no action has been taken against the DA, though they keep pushing for action.