Seal Beach shooting case casts spotlight on jailhouse informants

Questions over evidence gathered by informants for the O.C. district attorney's office may have repercussions in other cases.

April 20, 2014|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times

A legal fight over the use of jailhouse informants has thrown the emotionally charged trial of the man accused of committing the deadliest shooting in Orange County history into jeopardy and will probably have repercussions in other high-profile cases.

The battle has shifted the spotlight from the case against Seal Beach shooting suspect Scott Dekraai to prosecutors and informants, who have testified for weeks in hearings over allegations by the defense that jailhouse snitches were unconstitutionally deployed to gather information, and their work was then routinely concealed from defense attorneys.

On the witness stand, the head of the district attorney's homicide unit conceded that his office has failed to disclose information, including evidence gathered by informants, to defense attorneys in multiple cases. He insisted the errors were not malicious but agreed the evidence should now be turned over.


The revelation could potentially lead to new trials for accused killers and convicted criminals now serving prison sentences.

The hearing has also exposed the workings of two prolific jailhouse informants who were repeatedly tapped by law enforcement. One said he may have killed up to six people but is hoping his informant work will lead to his release. Another, a onetime shot caller for the Mexican Mafia, is hoping for a break in his own three-strikes case.


Days after Dekraai arrived at the county jail, Fernando Perez, a longtime gang member with two pending cases, told deputies and prosecutors the shooting suspect had talked about his crimes. Officials responded by putting a recording device in Dekraai's cell, according to court records and testimony.

Prosecutors told the defense about the informant's statement and the recordings — which they hope will help put Dekraai on death row. What they didn't say was that Perez had a long history as a jailhouse snitch.

Only after a judge ordered the prosecution to hand over details about Perez's work did a picture emerge of an informant who had managed to land incriminating information on at least nine inmates, including two other defendants facing the death penalty — one accused of dismembering a neighbor in a double killing, the other convicted last year of killing his ex-girlfriend's family and burning their bodies, according to court records and testimony.

The defense also learned that soon after Dekraai arrived in jail, he was moved to a cell next to the informant, according to the records.

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