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Judge: Death penalty not out in salon killings

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A Southern California judge on Monday refused to order the district attorney's office to recuse itself or take the death penalty off the table in the case of a man who admitted killing eight people at an Orange County hair salon.

In a ruling that comes after weeks of hearings on the district attorney's use of jailhouse informants, Judge Thomas M. Goethals acknowledged misconduct from prosecutors.

But the judge said it did not warrant the two requests from Scott Dekraai's attorney: the disqualification of the district attorney in the case and the removal of the death penalty from consideration. Dekraai, 44, pleaded guilty but has yet to be sentenced.

The judge said the proper remedy was to exclude the use of in-custody statements by Dekraai, something prosecutors already agreed to do.

The allegations by Dekraai's lawyer touched on a host of murder and gang crime cases that were being watched closely by defense attorneys wondering whether their clients were improperly interviewed by jailhouse informants or denied access to evidence. Since Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders filed the allegations this year, one suspect saw his conviction vacated.

Sanders contended that prosecutors and sheriff's deputies in the traditionally conservative county used informants to glean information from murder and gang crime suspects in violation of their constitutional rights and didn't turn over required evidence to defense lawyers.

“There has been a demonstrative inability by the OCDA to proceed impartially and in a manner that protects Dekraai's right to a fair trial,” Sanders wrote in court papers.

A sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 18 for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty in May to killing eight people, including his ex-wife, in a shooting rampage at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. At a minimum, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

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