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Recently disclosed Orange County sheriff’s deputies records directly contradict previous testimony of several witnesses in the case against mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai, according to court documents filed Thursday by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ team.
The disclosure of the impeached testimony is among the most striking to emerge from the prosecution’s analysis of five years of secret deputy records that were revealed recently in the double-murder case of Daniel Patrick Wozniak.
In 1,157 pages of records, prosecutors say they discovered deputies, who were part of a group called “special handling,” running informants as part of covert operations in the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana — while also collaborating with other law enforcement agencies in activities of which prosecutors were unaware.
Those deputies called their actions “capers,” “plans,” and “operations” in the records, which included informants — with names like “Okie Doke” — on almost every page, court filings say.
Daniel Wagner, an assistant district attorney who oversees the homicide division, wrote that the records raise questions about the possible violation of constitutional rights of Dekraai, and other cases.
In a declaration filed Thursday, Wagner wrote the trove of records contains “material that impeaches the testimony of several [sheriff’s department] witnesses, and perhaps other witnesses and evidence.”
As part of a process to notify the court of the new disclosures, Wagner filed under seal a complete record of the new material with Judge Thomas M. Goethals in Superior Court in Santa Ana.
Goethals was the judge in Dekraai’s conviction in 2014 for the 2011 murders of his ex-wife and seven others during a shooting rampage at a Seal Beach beauty salon.
In that case, Goethals last year blocked Rackauckas’ entire office from continuing to prosecute Dekraai’s penalty trial because of violations of the defendant’s rights involving informants. Goethals wrote in his opinion that two sheriff’s deputies and an deputy district provided false testimony.
The state Attorney General’s Office is appealing Goethals’ decision on behalf of Rackauckas, who wants the death penalty for Dekraai. The attorney general also is conducting a criminal investigation into whether witnesses in the Dekraai case committed perjury.
In January, a jury recommended death for Wozniak after convicting him last December for the 2010 decapitation murder of 26-year-old Samuel E. Herr of Costa Mesa, and the murder of 23-year-old Juri “Julie” Kibuishi of Irvine.
However, the sentencing date last month was delayed as Scott Sanders — the county public defender for both Dekraai and Wozniak — began probing newly disclosed sheriff’s deputies records in an attempt to win a new penalty trial for Wozniak.
As Conley held an evidentiary hearing on the issues, Sander’s intense questioning of sheriff’s deputies led to the disclosure of cache of computer records called the “special handling blog.”
Wagner’s declaration states the single-spaced, typewritten text of the blog ran from September 2008 to January 2013.
The blog stopped as Sanders won access in the Dekraai case to thousands of pages of records about informants — which led to the burgeoning scandal that since has seen a half-dozen murder and major crime convictions overturned.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ command staff denied knowing of the “special handling blog,” which a commander initially referred to as an “unauthorized blog” not sanctioned by departmental leaders. They are now calling it “a log” of daily events in the jail.
In a statement released Thursday, Hutchens said deputies are receiving new training regarding records and the department is conducting an inquiry into events surrounding the log.
“This is a thorough, ongoing effort,” Hutchens said in the statement. “I take this very seriously.”
In Thursday’s filings on the blog to Goethals, Wagner wrote prosecutors are continuing to examine the records, a process that will take at least another three weeks.
Wagner noted “there is new material in the [special handling] logs that were central to the earlier hearings in the Dekraai case.”
As an example, he cited new records about an informant — Fernando “Wicked” Perez — who was a key witness in the Dekraai case. The new records involve Perez working with sheriff’s deputies in June 2010, a month after Wozniak’s crimes.
And Wagner wrote that his office “will continue to analyze the extent of the impact of the newly discovered [special handling] log on open and closed cases.”
Among the records under review are those on a flash drive produced during the Conley hearing by Ben Garcia, a sheriff’s deputy who handled jail informants.
Garcia’s flash drive came to light following Sanders’ sharp questioning of sheriff’s deputies who serve as custodians of records.
In the Dekraai case, Garcia was among those named by Goethals as providing false testimony.
In Conley’s courtroom, sheriff’s officers testified deputies, like Garcia, told them they didn’t think the blog was responsive to Sanders’ subpoenas.
At a hearing Thursday, Wagner asked Goethals to review the special handling log/blog records privately, and determine what material should be turned over to the defense.
In relation to other cases, a press release from Rackauckas’ office described “an action plan…to ensure the constitutional rights of any defendant are protected.”
This plan involves appointment of an experienced prosecutor to check records, examine other new reports referenced in the log, and to disclose relevant information to the Attorney General’s Office for its probe.
The press release stated the district attorney is “analyzing prior courtroom testimony of certain deputies and determining whether the content of the [special handling] log substantially impeaches their testimony” to the point prosecutors “have a duty to notify any criminal defendant of the impeachment material.”
And the release reiterated earlier statements that Rackauckas’ office had no knowledge of the special handling log until it was disclosed in May proceedings before Conley.
A hearing before Goethals on what the blog could mean for the Dekraai case is to be held on July 8.
Friday Conley held a hearing to hash out when Sanders will file a motion for a new penalty phase in the Wozniak case, but no decision was made and the hearing was continued until Monday.
Please contact Rex Dalton directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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