A Mass Shooting Tore Their Lives Apart. A Corruption Scandal Crushed Their Hopes For Justice.

Matt Ferner

LOS ANGELES ― One morning last March, in an overlit courtroom in Orange County, the lawyer for the man who killed Bethany Webb’s sister walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry for putting you through this,” public defender Scott Sanders told her.

Webb was moved. In the six years since a man named Scott Dekraai had confessed to killing eight people, including Webb’s sister and a close friend, at a beauty salon in Orange County, Sanders was the only official involved in the case who had offered her any personal consolation.

The sheriffs and prosecutors, who were supposed to be on Webb’s side, had devoted over half a decade to the pursuit of one goal: winning the death penalty for Dekraai. Webb had begged prosecutors — first District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and later, when his office was thrown off the case, the California prosecutors who replaced him — to stop seeking death. They ignored her. And Sanders had thwarted them at every turn, revealing egregious prosecutorial misconduct and uncovering a major scandal involving the illegal use of informants inside county jails. 

Defense lawyers and families of murder victims do not, typically, become allies. But by that March day in court, Webb’s faith in the prosecution was long gone, eroded by years of hearings, years of excuses from prosecutors, and years of false testimony from the DA’s allies in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. And as Webb’s support for the prosecution declined, she’d developed a deep respect for Sanders, the man defending her sister’s killer. She, and other victims’ relatives, just wanted the case to end. They wanted closure. Webb and other victims’ family members now blamed the prosecution, not the defense, for the years of delays.

“They are not doing this for my family,” she remembers thinking. “They are doing this to my family.”

Thomas Goethals, the judge who presided over the case, seemed to agree.

“I have seen some extraordinary events in my time, but nothing like what has unfolded in this courtroom ― crimes and investigative conduct like I’ve seen here,” Goethals would later say during his final ruling on the case.

Webb and other victims’ relatives were hoping the prosecution would finally change its strategy.

But Michael Murphy, the California deputy attorney general tasked with taking over the case, dashed their hopes. His office would continue to seek capital punishment for Dekraai, he told the court that March. Webb’s nightmare — and the years-long fight over whether to execute Dekraai — would continue.



The Deadliest Mass Shooting In Orange County History

It took Webb just a split second on Oct. 12, 2011, to realize her life had forever changed. She was watching “General Hospital,” taking a 30-minute break from monitoring interest rates as part of her work as a loan officer, when a breaking news alert warned her nine people had been shot at a hair salon in the quaint seaside town of Seal Beach. Webb looked up at the TV and instantly recognized Salon Meritage, where her sister Laura worked.

In an office 25 miles away, Paul Wilson understood something had gone horribly wrong the moment he picked up the telephone and heard Gordon Gallego’s voice. Wilson had known the hairstylist for 15 years ― ever since his wife, Christy, had started working at the salon. “Gordon, you have to tell me Christy’s OK,” Wilson remembers pleading. “I can’t do that, Paul,” Gallego softly replied.

Wilson and Webb were both regulars at Meritage. In fact, Wilson had been at the salon on the morning of the shooting. Sitting in Gallego’s chair, he had watched Michelle Fournier walk in. Fournier, a hairstylist and Christy’s high school friend, was embroiled in an increasingly bitter custody battle with her ex-husband, Scott Dekraai. Now, Dekraai wanted to meet for coffee, Fournier explained. Just the thought of it made Gallego cringe.

“That guy Scott is so crazy, he could come in here and shoot up the place,” he said that very morning.

About two hours later, Dekraai would do just that. Wearing body armor and carrying three guns, Dekraai burst into the salon and opened fire. He first shot Fournier in the head and chest. In the barrage that followed, Christy Wilson, Laura Webb and six others lost their lives. Seventy-three-year-old Hattie Stretz, Bethany and Laura’s mother, was at the salon that day to get her nails done. She was shot and left fighting for her life.

Dekraai was pulled over by a Seal Beach police officer just minutes after he sped off in his pickup truck. Still wearing body armor, his pockets stuffed with ammo and loaded magazines, he surrendered. “I know what I did,” he told the arresting officer. Later that day, Dekraai confessed to a police detective ― describing his morning argument with Fournier, his weapons, and each of his victims, by name.

The first time Wilson and Webb saw Dekraai after the shootings was two days later, in court. Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, the lead prosecutor on the case, and Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons told a jam-packed courtroom on Oct. 14 they would be seeking the death penalty. Their boss, Rackauckas, tearfully said at a press conference that same day that the Seal Beach murder case was “so depraved, so callous, so malignant” that only the most severe punishment would fit the crime. Privately, Rackauckas told the families they could rest assured he had their backs.


A Snitch Scandal Is Born

Rackauckas has been Orange County’s top prosecutor for two decades, reigning over county law enforcement in the longtime Republican stronghold.

Like thousands of his colleagues across the U.S., Rackauckas has a remarkable set of tools at his disposal. District attorneys are among the most powerful government agents in the American criminal justice system. They have complete and unrivaled access to the evidence that can determine a person’s guilt or innocence, and it’s on them to share it with the defense. They can cut deals with witnesses, co-conspirators and defendants. They determine the charges a defendant will face, and therefore set the parameters for the eventual punishment a suspect might receive.

The case in front of Rackauckas’ prosecution team seemed like a slam-dunk.

Scott Dekraai was a poster child for the death penalty, Webb thought at the time. “He shoots eight people, wounds a ninth,” she recalled. “A dozen people see him. They run into a bar next door that has a big open window. All the patrons in the bar watch him walk out, with a gun in his hand. They watch him shoot a guy in a car. People are screaming, calling 911. He gets in his car and slowly drives away. A brave man runs out and takes a picture of his license plate as he’s leaving. He’s pulled over just blocks away with the gun and says he knows what he did and then goes on to confess.”

“Clear as day,” she concluded. “You can’t mess this up.”

But the prosecution team did just that, from the very start of the investigation, Wilson and Webb say.

Just days after the murders, sheriff’s deputies who supervised the county jail Dekraai was housed in moved him into a section known as Mod L., officially used as a mental health housing unit. As Dekraai struggled to adjust to life behind bars in those initial days, he found support in the inmate housed next to him ― Fernando Perez. A 30-something former Mexican mafia leader, Perez faced a possible life sentence and had already spent much of his life in jail. The pair started talking about the Seal Beach case, discussing Dekraai’s mental state at the time of the shootings, meetings with his attorney and interactions with the prison’s mental health staff.

Three months after the killings, prosecutors revealed that they, too, had met with Perez, discussed his numerous conversations with Dekraai, and asked the sheriff’s department to bug Dekraai’s cell. For about a week, that device captured numerous conversations between the pair.

To Dekraai’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, these meetings raised disturbing questions.

Informants play a significant role in the criminal justice system. They offer a critical way for prosecutors around the nation to help bolster their cases, because they can, and do, produce testimony that is damning. But there are significant risks. Because informants always operate in the shadows, their work, and the agreements they cut with police and prosecutors, frequently escape public scrutiny. Very often, snitches face lengthy sentences. That may motivate them to engage with prosecutors, but it can also be an incentive to provide prosecutors with false or dubious information. False snitch testimony has been identified as a key cause of wrongful convictions in murder cases. In the Dekraai case, where prosecutors were concerned Dekraai might mount an insanity defense in an attempt to avoid the death penalty, an informant could potentially help to prove he was of sound mind.

But the Sixth Amendment strictly prohibits the use of government-directed informants to question defendants who have already been charged, as Dekraai had been. If Perez had worked as a government informant, Sanders realized, it meant the prosecution team had violated his client’s rights.

So, much to the chagrin of the victims’ families, Sanders began a lengthy effort to get all the materials from the sheriff and the prosecution about Perez. It took Sanders about a year, with multiple requests, hearings and finally an order from then-Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, to compel prosecutors to hand over what would amount to thousands of pages related to Perez.


From the documents, Sanders learned that Perez was a seasoned informant who had been cooperating with law enforcement on various cases for more than a year in hopes of reducing his own time behind bars. The notes Perez kept on his conversations with dozens of inmates ― a project he called “Operation Daylight” ― proved just why prosecutors found him so valuable. He quickly built trust with his targets, consistently detailed what he learned, and was eager to please the police and prosecutors.

However, Rackauckas and his prosecutors maintained that Perez had come forward of his own volition, having become so personally troubled by Dekraai’s revelations that he felt compelled to speak up. They also claimed that the gang leader had recently retired as a snitch and that his long history with the department hardly mattered. It was pure coincidence, they said, that the two inmates ended up in nearby cells.

But Sanders wasn’t buying it. And, increasingly, neither were Wilson and Webb.


‘Anybody Following This Case… Could See They Cheated.’

Sanders spent months studying the thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of jail recordings regarding Perez. What he found would ultimately turn the Orange County criminal justice system on its head.

In January 2014, Sanders filed a blistering 505-page motion that outlined how the illegal use of jailhouse informants went far beyond the Dekraai case.

The public defender argued that sheriff’s deputies used housing units like Mod. L as “informant tanks,” where inmates who were secretly working with the government targeted specific defendants and tried to obtain information that could bolster the prosecution’s case in court. Furthermore, Sanders alleged, prosecutors and sheriff’s officials had consistently worked to conceal the program’s existence, and had held back evidence from it that could potentially have been beneficial to defendants.

Sanders’ findings radically changed the focus of the Dekraai hearings, moving them away from the shooting to an investigation of wider government misconduct. County prosecutors and the sheriff’s department adamantly denied the allegations ― Wagner, the senior prosecutor, called them “scurrilous and unfounded” and said Sanders’ motion was “filled with untruths” ― but Judge Goethals ordered the first of what would ultimately be three sets of hearings.

Throughout the following months, Wilson and Webb looked on as a prosecutor and sheriff’s deputies took the stand to discuss their work with informants, delivering testimony that would later prove to be false. A trio of deputies in the Special Handling unit of the sheriff’s department — Ben Garcia, Seth Tunstall and William Grover — denied that there was a jailhouse informant program, said they never kept any records about their use of informants, and downplayed ever working with informants inside the jail.

Tunstall and then-Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen, a veteran of the gang unit of the district attorney’s office, claimed that law enforcement officials had refused to hand over records to defense lawyers because a former federal prosecutor had ordered them not to disclose critical evidence. But the prosecutor later testified that she never gave any such order. In addition, Sanders showed she had turned over the same evidence in her own federal cases.


Wilson and Webb heard law enforcement officers’ tortured arguments over semantics (there weren’t any “informants” in the jail at all, they claimed, just “sources of information”) and their repeated refusals to shed light on the work inside the jail or, at times, to testify at all. With each new claim, Webb and Wilson grew more dismayed.

“I was there for years... I saw that testimony. I saw the district attorneys and deputies not answering questions,” Webb said. “Anybody following this case, paying attention with critical thought, could see they cheated ― this is me sitting in the court listening to them cheat, listening to them lie.”

The hearings took a heavy toll. Each time, it took Webb days to mentally prepare to be in Dekraai’s presence. Goethals did his best to allow the victims’ families to address the court, but legal formalities meant they could make their voices heard only rarely. “You just sit there and hope,” Webb said. “Every three months or so, you may able to say a word, try and get your thing in. But most of the time you don’t. Most of the time you just sit there.”

Being in the courtroom was painful, but missing a day often felt worse.

“Those days would rip my heart out, knowing that Christy didn’t have any representation there,” Wilson said. “I felt like I was the worst guy in the world. It was gut-wrenching.”

With every new allegation of malfeasance, the possibility of a straightforward sentencing for Dekraai seemed to grow more remote. And the lack of transparency from law enforcement stood in stark contrast to the mountain of evidence Sanders was producing in court ― document after document that clearly demonstrated the existence of a longstanding and vast informant program in the jail.

As the hearings dragged on, the families of Dekraai’s victims grew divided over how they wanted the case to proceed. Some wanted the prosecution to carry on with seeking the death penalty. Others weren’t sure what the path forward should be. And some, like Wilson and Webb, were ready to drop the idea of the death sentence if it would mean a speedier end to the trial. At this point, they just wanted it to be over.

Meanwhile, even as Wilson and Webb’s faith in Rackauckas and the sheriff’s department crumbled further week after week, their appreciation for Sanders’ efforts to uncover the truth grew stronger.

“He did it the right way, the way it’s supposed to be done,” Wilson said of Sanders. “He did it the way I wanted the district attorney to do it. If he would have been on our side, my family would have been able to heal. And we’d be in a much better spot than we were almost six years after the fact.”


An Ending Deferred

In May 2014, Dekraai unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the killings, pre-empting the jury trial that would have determined his guilt, which was set to begin just months later. Sanders told the court that Dekraai was ready to be sentenced immediately to eight consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, and that he would not file an appeal. If Rackauckas was willing to stop seeking a death sentence, the case could be brought to a swift conclusion.

When considering whether to pursue a death sentence in a case, prosecutors like Rackauckas have wide discretion. They must consider various formal legal factors, like the nature of the crime and the number of victims. But they can also be influenced by factors like local politics, public perception and personal philosophy. In Orange County, Rackauckas’ office has regularly sought the death penalty for its most serious homicide cases, obtaining the sentence for nine defendants since 2010.

After Dekraai pleaded guilty, some members of the victims’ families, including Wilson and Webb, urged Rackauckas to accept Dekraai’s offer and drop his pursuit of the death penalty. The prosecutor wasn’t moved. He told Wilson it was his decision, not theirs. “This case deserves the death penalty and that’s what we’re going to get,” Wilson remembers Rackauckas saying.

For Wilson, it was a defining moment. “I learned that they weren’t working for me,” he said. “These guys who I thought were protecting me weren’t protecting me. They weren’t protecting Christy, they weren’t doing what’s best for Christy. They weren’t doing what was best for my family.”

Rackauckas met with the victims’ loved ones several times throughout the legal process, said Michelle Van Der Linden, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

“Clearly, their opinions mattered to the DA and through these discussions he found there were loved ones on all sides of the death penalty issue, with some being for it, while others were against,” Van Der Linden said. “Ultimately, DA Rackauckas told them that our justice system vests the final decision whether to seek the death penalty upon the elected District Attorney. DA Rackauckas believed, and continues to believe, that if there was ever a case in Orange County where it was appropriate to seek the death penalty, it was this case.”

So the case continued. And the revelations of misconduct piled up.

Throughout the hearings, deputies had insisted they had no records or notes that would help remind them why inmates were moved to particular locations. But later in 2014, Sanders found that the sheriff’s department had been using an internal database to document movements of jail inmates and informants. The records, which went back decades, showed the scope of the informant work was much larger than previously thought. They also provided evidence that sheriff’s deputies had intentionally placed Fernando Perez next to Dekraai, Sanders said.

Asked why they hadn’t turned over these key records, Tunstall ― who’d authored thousands of entries in the database ― said he’d never thought to mention them. Garcia admitted he had been trained never to speak of them in court.

On March 12, 2015 ― over three and a half years after Dekraai killed eight people in Seal Beach ― Judge Goethals had heard enough.

That day, the judge issued a scathing ruling that recused Rackauckas’ entire office from further prosecuting the case. He forcefully chastised Tunstall and Garcia, saying they “either intentionally lied or willfully withheld information” during their testimony, and called out Petersen by name for misleading the court. He acknowledged that there was no direct evidence Rackauckas had actively participated in the concealment of evidence ― but he faulted the top prosecutor for “chronic failure” to comply with his court orders to produce evidence, which resulted in the violation of Dekraai’s constitutional rights.

“Certain aspects of the District Attorney’s performance in this case might be described as a comedy of errors but for the fact that it has been so sadly deficient,” Goethals wrote. “There is nothing funny about that.”


‘The Magnitude Of The Systemic Problems Cannot Be Overlooked.’

Still, prosecutors weren’t done fighting. The office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who’s now a Democratic senator and potential 2020 presidential candidate, took over the prosecutorial duties for the Dekraai case when Rackauckas’ team was ejected. Although serious allegations of misconduct against Rackauckas’ office were clear, Harris appealed Goethals’ decision to remove county prosecutors from the case. And instead of conducting a vigorous inquiry into the snitch program and the role of prosecutors in concealing it, she launched a narrower criminal investigation that purported to examine the role of wrongdoing by members of the sheriff’s department.

In early 2016, while Harris’ appeal was still under review, Sanders discovered during his litigation of another capital case an enormous work log, maintained by sheriff’s deputies from 2008 to 2013, that had never previously been disclosed to the court. The 1,157-page log described numerous interactions with inmates and informants. The entries detailed how deputies recruited and used informants, collaborated with prosecutors and other local law enforcement agencies, and ran scams to gather further evidence from inmates. The document trove contained numerous entries from Grover and Garcia, the deputies who had testified under oath they didn’t have notes about their work with informants. Tunstall, the third deputy from the Special Handling unit, didn’t author any entries in the log, but he is referenced throughout.

After years of denials, the discovery of the log forced Rackauckas’ office to finally acknowledge that, yes, a jail informant program did exist, and yes, sheriff’s deputies actively “recruited and utilized” informants and rewarded them in exchange for information. County prosecutors also admitted that the log contradicted statements made by several of the sheriff’s deputies who had testified in earlier hearings.

The sheriff’s department, however, continued to deny the existence of the program, as it does to this day.


By the end of 2016, California’s 4th District Court of Appeal rejected Harris’ appeal of Judge Goethals’ ruling. The three-justice panel affirmed his decision and agreed with his findings ― there was indeed evidence of an informant program in Orange County’s jails, and it was appropriate to recuse Rackauckas’ prosecutors from Dekraai’s case. The justices found that the DA’s office was more interested in being loyal to the county sheriff’s office than in upholding the law, and that this misplaced loyalty came at the expense of Dekraai’s rights.

“The magnitude of the systemic problems cannot be overlooked,” the justices wrote of the crisis in Orange County. Rackauckas and his prosecutors would not be returning to the Dekraai case.


Dekraai’s Fate

The victims’ families didn’t always agree on the death penalty. But by the end of 2016, they were growing increasingly aligned ― and they wanted the case to come to a close. On a Saturday afternoon in December, the families gathered at a park in Seal Beach, home to a memorial for the victims of the salon massacre, and delivered a very public message to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who had taken over from Kamala Harris: Abandon the effort to execute Dekraai. It wasn’t out of sympathy for Dekraai, they said. It was out of a desire to gain some sense of closure in a case that had already taken up five years of their lives.

“We have no choice but to collectively agree we do not want the death penalty pursued,” Paul Wilson said, speaking on behalf of the group. “We are exhausted from this continuous pain, and this has got to be over with. Life will never be the same for us, but we should have the chance to move on.”

Their hopes were dashed three months later. In March 2017, California prosecutor Michael Murphy, Becerra’s deputy, told Goethals’ courtroom that the AG would continue to seek capital punishment for Dekraai.

Webb and Wilson were stunned. They had begged the state prosecutors not to do it. “They wanted to do the political thing, so they went for it. And they took another nine months of our time,” Webb said.

Becerra’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Harris’ office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Goethals had spent months examining the thousand-plus pages of the Special Handling log, along with a trove of other previously undisclosed internal sheriff’s department memos and documents. The fact that informant-related evidence was still trickling in ― more than three years after his original court order mandating that these materials be immediately disclosed ― deeply troubled the judge. In court, he openly questioned whether the sheriff’s department could be trusted to ever turn over all relevant materials in the case. So he ordered new hearings once again, in an effort to determine just that.

Beginning in May 2017, Goethals heard from dozens of sheriff’s department staff ― deputies, supervisors, commanders and eventually Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens herself ― and a new line of defense emerged. Although there was no formal jail informant program, the sheriff’s officials said, there was a small group of rogue deputies who illegally worked with informants behind the backs of their supervisors. “There may have been a few deputies who took their duties to different levels than were authorized,” Hutchens said on the stand.

But the “rogue deputy” narrative disintegrated by the end of the hearings, after two key deputies and a retired supervisor indicated that the department’s upper management was aware of the program. The evidence Sanders produced in this round of hearings was clear: There was an understanding of widespread use of jailhouse informants, all the way up the chain of command at the sheriff’s department, for over a decade.

In August, with the hearings concluded, Goethals would again issue a stunning decision. In a rare move, he ruled that due to “ongoing prosecutorial misconduct,” and the prosecution team being “unable or unwilling” to provide all relevant records to ensure that Dekraai would get a fair penalty trial, he would exclude the death penalty as a punishment option.

A month later, with the death penalty off the table, Dekraai was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole. It had been six years since he’d opened fire in the Seal Beach salon.

Becerra’s office announced it would not appeal. It was finally over.

When Webb walked out of the courtroom, she felt worn out. But the next day, she began to feel some sense of consolation. And every day since then, she has felt a little less burdened. She knew, at least, she never had to go back.

Wilson, too, was relieved knowing he’d never have to set foot in that courtroom again. “I don’t have to sit 10 feet from that coward and look at him,” he said. “I don’t have to listen to these arrogant district attorneys and high-ranking police officers sit there and tell their lies and think they are above the law, and get immunity for whatever they are doing that they know is wrong.”


Still No Accountability In Orange County

The revelations in the Dekraai case have led to the unraveling of 18 other high-profile cases in the county and threaten to upend still more. But to Webb and Wilson’s great frustration, there been little accountability for the law enforcement agents involved.  

“I want to see every one of those people who broke the law ― anybody who perjured themselves on the stand, anybody who withheld evidence ― they all need to be held accountable, absolutely, 100 percent accountable,” Wilson said.

Of the three government probes into the allegations of misconduct in the county ― brought by the Orange County Grand Jury, the California attorney general’s office, and the U.S. Department of Justice ― only the grand jury has produced a report on their findings. Their conclusions only exacerbated the controversy around the county’s criminal justice system. The scandal was not a scandal at all, the grand jury argued ― it was a “myth” and a “witch hunt.” And anyway, they said, Goethals’ courtroom wasn’t a proper venue to examine the allegations of misconduct. But the report never addressed the evidence that for years poured into the Dekraai hearings, clearly contradicting their conclusions, nor did it present any analysis of the many cases influenced by informants. The foreperson later acknowledged that the panel relied almost entirely on interviews with prosecutors and sheriff’s staff.

Legal experts blasted the report, saying it was proof of the need for an outside, truly independent investigation.

The other two investigations, by the DOJ and the state attorney general’s office, are still underway. To this day, no charges have been filed against any government official accused of wrongdoing linked to the jail informant scandal.

The sheriff’s department has acknowledged deficiencies in its policies and protocols involving jailhouse informants. The agency has also implemented changes regarding the handling of inmates, sheriff’s department public information officer Carrie Braun said. It has disbanded the Special Handling unit at the center of the scandal, replacing it with a new unit that has many of the same duties as the old one but which, the sheriff’s department claims, is better equipped to respond to court orders. 

“A small number of deputies may have improperly utilized informants,” Braun said, echoing Hutchens’ testimony. “Neither the sheriff nor any sheriff’s department executive staff were aware of the cultivation or improper utilization of informants.”

Braun also said that the deputies accused of misconduct remain under criminal investigation by the California attorney general’s office. When that investigation is complete, the sheriff’s department will conduct a full internal affairs investigation, she said.

Sheriff Hutchens announced her retirement in 2017, but claimed it wasn’t related to the informant scandal. Grover, Garcia and Tunstall are all on paid administrative leave from the sheriff’s department.

Meanwhile, Rackauckas’ office maintains that none of its prosecutors intentionally behaved inappropriately. The office also said new policies and training regarding the use of informants have been implemented. “As we have previously expressed, the OCDA was frustrated with the OCSD’s failure to provide to the court all required, relevant information during the Dekraai proceedings,” Van Der Linden said. “However, the OCDA acted in good faith throughout the proceedings.”

Petersen, the prosecutor Goethals called out for misconduct, resigned from Rackauckas’ office, but found a new job as a prosecutor in Omaha, Nebraska shortly thereafter.

The lack of serious repercussions isn’t entirely surprising. Prosecutors generally operate without fear of accountability for their misconduct. Because so much of what they do is behind the scenes ― gathering evidence and working with police and investigators as they build their cases ― malfeasance is often not discovered until years, sometimes decades, after a person has been convicted. In many cases, it’s never discovered at all. And even when cheating is found, prosecutors are rarely punished criminally or by state bar associations. Partly in response to the Orange County scandal, California’s legislature passed a law subjecting prosecutors to felony charges if they withhold or falsify evidence. But the actions of the state AG’s office in the Dekraai case have have only increased skepticism that the agency will actually bring charges against fellow prosecutors. Moreover, in 1976, the United States Supreme Court granted “absolute immunity” to prosecutors, shielding them from civil liability even for “malicious or dishonest conduct.”

Dekraai is now in prison, serving out eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Rackauckas is running for re-election this year. He’s seeking his fifth term.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.