Los Angeles (AFP) – A gunman who massacred eight people at a packed hair salon in a small California beach town six years ago was sentenced Friday to life without parole.
Scott Dekraai opened fire at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles, in October 2011, killing ex-wife Michelle and her friend, who had testified against him at a custody hearing, as well as six others.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals handed the 47-year-old eight consecutive life sentences — one for each victim — describing him as the “face of evil” in the community.
Dekraai was facing execution but Goethals removed capital punishment as an option following allegations over the misuse of informants in the county jail system.
During an emotional sentencing hearing, relatives of Dekraai’s victims repeatedly lashed out and insulted the bespectacled defendant.
Given a chance to speak, Dekraai said he wished he could “turn back the hands of time” and claimed that he had been “waiting a long time to apologize.”
He also apologized to his son “as a father and as a role model… I was wrong for what I did. I’m totally to blame for my total loss of self-control.”
Dekraai admitted his crimes more than three years ago, amid allegations that his rights had been violated by a jailhouse informant who heard him make damning comments about the murder spree.
At issue was whether the comments were “overheard” by the informant or if the inmate lured Dekraai into revealing the information.
Informants are not allowed to question defendants represented by an attorney but they are free to pass along overheard comments to their handlers.
Dekraai’s attorneys, led by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, unearthed a litany of cases involving jailhouse informants used in ways they claimed violated the rights of other inmates.
Goethals replaced the prosecution team to head off the scandal and, in a shock move, eliminated the option of execution, arguing that Dekraai could never get a fair trial in the penalty phase.
“The criminal justice system here in Orange County has largely failed you. You deserve better,” Goethals told relatives at Friday’s sentencing.
Sanders estimates 16 defendants have won new trials or received reduced punishments following the scandal, although District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, whose team was booted off the case, puts the number of affected cases at just four.
The District Attorney’s Office said in a statement it continued to disagree with the judge’s decision.