On a sunny summer day, Christy Wilson would have been in the ocean with her granddaughter, Madisyn.
“Christy would have little Madi, at a year-and-a-half old, in her life jacket sitting on the front of her paddle board, and she’d be padding through Huntington Harbor,” Paul Wilson said at the Lakewood home where the couple raised three children and where his grandchildren now live.
Christy Wilson was one of eight people shot and killed on Oct. 12, 2011 by Scott Dekraai. Dekraai's ex-wife and Wilson's friend Michelle Fournier was also among the victims.
After more than three years of court hearings, Orange County Judge Thomas Goethals is expected to rule Friday on whether or not Dekraai can be sentenced to death for the crimes.
Dekraai pleaded guilty to eight counts of special circumstances murder and one count of attempted murder in 2014. But the sentencing phase of his trial has been delayed while evidence mounts that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense team and misused a jailhouse informant to bolster their case.
Paul Wilson has spent countless days listening to hearings in Dekraai’s case.
“Sitting in that courtroom, looking at that coward … it takes everything out of me,” Wilson said. “It drains my soul.”
Wilson wants Judge Goethals to rule against the death penalty for Dekraai, which means he would be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Wilson said Dekraai deserves to die for his crimes, but he sees little difference in California between sitting on death row and sitting in a cell for life.
California last put someone to death in 2006 and the state's protocol for carrying out capital punishment has been mired in legal challenges ever since. Plus, Wilson doesn’t want to sit through years of appeals.
“It’s just years and years and years of agony that I don’t want, I don’t deserve, and I don’t think any of the other family members deserve that either,” he said.
Not all family members of the Seal Beach victims agree. Some have urged Judge Goethals to allow prosecutors to pursue the death penalty. If Goethals accepts Dekraai’s plea of life in prison, it’ll be a huge black eye for Orange County law enforcement.
Goethals already removed the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the case in 2015. An appeals court upheld the ruling last year citing "extensive misconduct” on the part of the DA’s office and sheriff’s department.
Wilson wants DA Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to be held accountable for what he’s convinced was widespread misconduct.
“They’ve taken the largest mass murder in Orange County history and they have completely and utterly screwed that case up,” he said.
Wilson will be in court for Goethal's decision Friday — he hopes for one of the last times.