Insane X3: Salon Killer May Claim Long-Shot Insanity Defense

Posted October 19, 2011 in Criminal Law by Penny Arevalo

Although he won’t be arraigned until November 29, there are already hints that Scott Dekraai, who stands accused of orchestrating Orange County, CA’s worst mass killing in history will try to claim an insanity defense.

That was the impression District Attorney Tony Rackaukas – who says he’ll seek the death penalty – has after Dekraai’s first court appearance last week. "Clearly it’s going in that direction," he told a mob of news reporters after a judge postponed the arraignment.

Dekraai may claim insanity, but will that get him off charges that he executed eight people and shot a ninth in and around a Seal Beach salon?


  • Dekraai may have three potential ways to claim he was insane
  • How difficult is it to be found criminally insane in California?
  • One way the insanity defense may work.


Psychological Trouble Times Three?

There are three main ways that his criminal defense lawyers may show that Dekraai’s mental state was impaired when he committed the crime:

  1. Dekraai’s current lawyer, a custody attorney who will soon be replaced by a criminal legal team, told the judge that his client was not on the anti-psychotic medications he was supposed to be taking. In legal papers, Dekraai’s ex-wife, one of the eight shot dead last week, claimed he was bipolar.
  2. In addition, a horrific workplace accident may have left Dekraai with post-traumatic stress disorder. A psychiatrist proposed this diagnosis when helping a judge to decide which parent should have custody of Dekraai’s 8-year-old son.
  3. Dekraai had worked on a tugboat until 2007 when a tow cable pinned a fellow crewman, severing her in half. Dekraai reportedly tried to save her and almost lost his legs in the attempt.

  4. Finally, the custody battle itself may have pushed Dekraai over the edge.

Not Guilty by Insanity Is Not an Easy Defense

"Dekraai’s lawyers do not have an easy road ahead of them," said Anthony Falangetti, a criminal defense attorney in Long Beach and former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles for 14 years.

"A true plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, that level of defense, is very difficult," he explained. Dekraai’s lawyers would have to prove that he did not understand the nature and quality of his actions; that he did not understand what he did was wrong. Lawyers who invoke this defense are successful only 10 percent of the time, Falangetti said.

Anthony J. Falangetti

"Just because someone is bipolar doesn’t mean that the person does not understand the nature and quality of his actions," Falangetti continued. "The same is true with post-traumatic stress disorder."

"Finally, a good prosecutor will be able to use the court papers filed in the custody case to show that Dekraai had a sense of right and wrong"

Where an Insanity Defense Helps

While an insanity defense may not successfully lead to a not-guilty verdict, it may keep Dekraai alive. If and when the jury gets to penalty phase of the trial, Dekraai’s psychological condition may be found as a "mitigating factor" that would spare his life. "It can be used as a plea to the jury not to reject the death penalty." Falangetti concluded.

Penny Ar