At least five people facing possible death sentences are awaiting trial in Orange County, while three others have been sent to death row since voters rejected an abolition of capital punishment in the November 2012 election.
It was unclear how those pending cases -- or the fate of the hundreds of people already on the state's death row -- would be affected by today's ruling by a federal judge in Santa Ana declaring California's death penalty unconstitutional.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, declined comment.
Among the most notable pending cases is that of Scott Evans Dekraai, who pleaded guilty in May to the worst mass killing in Orange County history. Despite his guilty plea, he is fighting prosecutors on the death penalty with a lengthy motion that has led to a months-long evidentiary hearing that could wrap up by the end of the month.
Dekraai's attorneys have alleged a widespread conspiracy among law enforcement and prosecutors to use jailhouse informants to gather evidence against inmates in violation of their constitutional rights. Closing arguments on the evidentiary hearing, which started mid-March, are scheduled for July 25. Dekraai's attorneys want the death penalty removed as an option, and want the case reassigned to the attorney general.
Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, also represents Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who has made similar allegations and is seeking the same remedies.
Sanders said he believes today's ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney could inspire attorneys appealing death sentences.
"Judge Carney's ruling may not immediately affect the (Dekraai) case," Sanders said. "However, as this case makes its way to the Court of Appeal and the perhaps the Supreme Court, the important arguments made by appellate counsel will likely be raised in death penalty cases throughout the state. We are certainly among many capital defense teams carefully studying the opinion."
Other death penalty cases pending in Orange County are:
- Pasqual Loera, a Navy deserter charged with the Valentine's Day fatal shootings of a woman and her live-in boyfriend in Westminster
- Richard Raymond Ramirez, who was on death row for decades before a federal judge overturned his murder conviction in 2008. A jury deadlocked last year during the penalty phase and a retrial was ordered, but now Ramirez's attorneys are also raising questions of possible abuse of a jailhouse informant, delaying the proceedings until later this year. Ramirez was convicted again last year of raping and murdering a 22-year-old woman outside a Garden Grove bar in 1983
- Andrew Urdiales, a former Marine convicted of killing three prostitutes in Illinois and charged with killing five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995
- Wozniak, who is charged with the dismemberment murder of a neighbor in Costa Mesa and the killing of a friend of the neighbor.
Death penalty cases recently resolved in Orange County include:
- Waymon Livingston, who raped four women, murdering one of them, was sentenced to death in April of last year
- Hilbert Thomas, who killed a Stanton salesman and his secretary, was sentenced last month to Death Row
- Jason Balcom, who raped and murdered a pregnant newlywed in her Costa Mesa apartment in 1988, was sentenced to death row in February
- Iftekhar Murtaza, for whom jurors in December recommended the death sentence for killing the father and sister of his former girlfriend in Anaheim Hills. Prosecutors said he blamed them for breaking up his relationship over religious differences. He is awaiting sentencing.
--City News Service