How Tony Rackauckas Took A Slam Dunk Death Penalty Case And Turned It Into His Worst Crisis

Kevin McVeigh
DA Rackauckas: If I only had a brain . . . I'd unravel every riddle for any individ'le, in trouble or in pain

Orange County's worst mass shooting, the so-called 2011 Seal Beach hair-salon massacre, began as a traumatizing event for all, but it has devolved into one of the most polarizing legal struggles to hit our legal system. The question isn't about Scott Dekraai's guilt. Dekraai admitted to police that he was the killer within minutes of the shooting. Controversy swirls, however, around the tactics of prosecutors and sheriff's deputies trying to impose a death-penalty punishment rather than a 200-plus-year prison sentence without the possibility for parole. With one embarrassing revelation after another, the battle has grown painful, especially for the baffled families of the victims. To help understand why Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, himself an accomplished former prosecutor, this month made a historic decision to recuse Tony Rackauckas and his district attorney's office (OCDA), we are providing a chronology of events:

More »

Federal Trial Begins to Determine Whether Anaheim Cop Daron Wyatt is a Dirty Detective

Josue Rivas / OC Weekly
Detective Wyatt (right) with arms crossed

"Why would an innocent man confess to a murder that he did not commit?"

The question posed by defense attorney Mark W. Eisenberg during his opening statement is at the heart of a dramatic civil trial alleging Anaheim police beat a false confession out of a man. Eisenberg's client, Rafael Garcia Miranda, charges that detective Daron Wyatt also threatened to have Child Protective Services take his six children away if he didn't tell the officer what he wanted to hear during an interrogation.

Miranda falsely fessed up to being the supposed gang "shot caller," all for a meager $150, for the January 17, 1998 murder of Elizabeth Ann Begaren, an off-duty corrections officer killed in cold blood on the 91 freeway in Anaheim. The real culprit was Nuzzio Begaren, Elizabeth's newlywed husband, who contracted her killers (the gunman is still on the loose) so that he could cash in on her $1 million life insurance policy.

More »

Teofilo Medina Jr. Dies on Death Row; He'd Murdered 4 Young Men in OC and Corona in '84

Courtesy of CDC
Teofilo Medina Jr.
A 70-year-old Orange County death row inmate has died not from execution after years and years of appeals were denied but of natural causes.

Teofilo Medina Jr., out of Santa Ana, died Sunday at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, where he had been receiving hospice care, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDC).

Medina served prison time in Arizona for a rape and was released about three months before October and November 1984, when over a 25-day period he robbed and murdered four store clerks in Orange and Riverside counties. Horacio Ariza Jr., 20, and Douglas Michael Metal, 23, who worked at a Santa Ana gas station, and Victor Rea, 20, who worked at a Garden Grove drive-through dairy, were all shot in the head.

More »

Final Audit Report Shows Larry Agran's Great Park Plan Was A Debacle From Outset

Agran's "Great" Park had everything but the flying monkeys buzzing Munchkinland
Twelve years ago, Larry Agran, Irvine's career politician and mayor who'd never built anything, issued bold statements about his ability to build a "world-class" government park at the mothballed Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and people, especially journalists, believed him.

"Move over, Manhattan," wrote an excited Christian Science Monitor reporter in April 2003. "Stand aside San Francisco. In Orange County, the final hurdle has been cleared for a 'county great park' that will exceed the size of Central Park and Golden Gate Park put together."

The reporter--who didn't know the mayor and his political scheming actually would be the final hurdles--went on to echo the mayor's oral machinations, declaring that "the area is considered America's leading laboratory of 'post suburbia' . . . "

Agran also provided the money quote, "We are finally moving forward with a plan that will transform the future of Orange County."

In pure Agranista form, the paper unquestioningly repeated his biggest lie in the title to a chapter in the article: "No cost to citizens."

Add you own exclamation point!

Those of us who for 12 years closely watched Agran and his Democratic political machine operate dictatorial control over the project didn't fall for the empty hype. Their operatives received lucrative, no-bid contracts for a public park that didn't yet exist. They wasted nearly $50 million on a park design plan that was laughably unattainable--a huge, man-made canyon and waterfalls!--the moment it landed on paper. Paranoid of being caught in various scandals, they treated park records with NSA-type secrecy. Agran conducted park spending business through his wife's private email account. Despite claiming otherwise, they planned to use a special tax scheme to boost park coffers until Gov. Jerry Brown killed such tactics. They ran fake Republican candidates to dilute their opponents' election strength. After years and years of spending several hundred million dollars without building a single, major promised feature, the Agran alliance finally lost power in 2012.

More »

Supervisor Todd Spitzer Blasts District Attorney Tony Rackauckas For Corruption Scandal

R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas defends his embattled office with reporters today while flanked by aides Susan Kang Schroeder and Scott Simmons
Following an Orange County judge's recent historic decision to recuse District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from the death penalty case against Scott Dekraai, guilty in the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre, the solemn DA stood in front of reporters today on a mission.

In the ongoing law enforcement cheating scandal, Rackauckas wants residents to know that while there have been numerous screw-ups his prosecutors are "honest and hardworking," and that the real villain is a system that delays justice for the family and friends of Dekraai's eight murdered victims.

"I think the system has let them down," the DA said. "I'm trying to bring these [types of] cases to justice in a more expeditious way. It's getting worse, rather than getting better. The process has gotten more complicated over time."

During a morning court session with Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, the California Attorney General's office announced it would seek an appellate reversal of the judge's March 12 recusal order, claiming the move to ban the entire DA's office from the Dekraai case was unnecessarily excessive. Plus the AG's office doesn't want the extra work. Rackauckas supported the move and the judge pushed back the penalty phase of the case until July 24 while all of the parties wait for a three-member California Court of Appeal panel to rule. In reality, however, the appellate delays could take years to resolve.

More »

Prosecutors Make Sweetheart Deal To Avoid More Law Enforcement Cheating Revelations

Let's Make A Deal: Bryant Islas should be a happy man today
In yet another unambiguous, if reluctant, signal of Orange County's troubled jailhouse informant program, a prosecutor this week dismissed attempted murder charges in a case that could have carried life in prison punishment, a move with potential dubious motives counter to the public interest.

Make no mistake: People v. Bryant Phillip Islas joins a list of recent homicide cases the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) has ended by handing incredibly favorable plea bargains to suspected killers and attempted murderers.

Like in People v. Joseph Govey, People v. Leonel Vega and People v. Isaac John Palacios, prosecutors quietly gave Islas a March 17 sweetheart deal to avoid a trial scheduled that day.


In the ongoing scandal that resulted last week in a superior court judge kicking District Attorney Tony Rackauckas off a death penalty case, an Islas trial would have produced additional, new evidence of cheating by prosecutors, sheriff's deputies and Santa Ana Police Department detectives--or, as Rackauckas is labeling the corruption: acts of benign negligence that coincidentally tilted cases in favor of the government.

More »

At Great Park Shenanigans Deposition, Lawyer Larry Agran Can't Recall If He Can Recall

Two-Faced Larry: Effective 2012 campaign mailer against Irvine's longest career politician
Until reality caught up to him last November and shattered his heavily concocted image as a good-government activist, Larry Agran served as the leader of a political machine that for a dozen years dictatorially controlled Irvine and the Orange County Great Park project.

The ugly reality includes Agran's penchant for secrecy, cronyism, narcissism and mismanagement, especially at the Great Park, a noble idea the career politician slyly converted into a biennial election tool to keep his council alliance in power, a circumstance that allowed him to give $167,000 per month in no-bid, public-relations contracts to his own political operatives.

After skipping a scheduled February deposition and demanding conditions such as taxpayers must pay for at least two lawyers defending him as he dodges potential criminal charges, Agran finally sat on March 13 with Anthony R. Taylor, the Aleshire & Wynder attorney conducting an independent audit of Great Park shenanigans.

Not surprisingly, the failed 1992 presidential primary candidate's paranoia emerged at the outset of the deposition, with Fred Woocher, one of Agran's lawyers, asking if anybody not present in the room was listening via a wire. Taylor said no, and then had to entertain the same question two more times.

Next, Agran's team encouraged Taylor to employ the California Public Records Act as a weapon for stalling journalists from reading the deposition for at least two weeks, claiming city officials would need 10 business days to find it.

More »

Horizon Cross Cultural Center to Dole Out $1.7 Million to Settle Government Overbilling Case

Horizon Cross Cultural Center
Take a picture, it may last longer.
An Orange-based nonprofit that provides job, health, transportation and other supportive services to Vietnamese refugees and other immigrant populations is reportedly doling out more than $1.7 million to settle charges that it falsified records and over-billed local government agencies.

More »

Pediatric Medical Researchers Blame Disneyland Measles Outbreak on Anti-Vaxxers

Luke McGarry
How could you, Jenny McCarthy!?!
The anti-vaccination movement is likely to blame for the Disneyland measles outbreak of mid-December, according to research published Monday by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

More »

Water Quality Board Adopts Legal Reason for Rejection of Toll Road Extension Project Permit

The Toll Roads
The road to somewhere?
The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted legal findings Monday to support its unanimous June 2013 rejection of a water quality permit for the 241 Foothill/Eastern toll road Tesoro Extension project.

More »