New data released by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders from the Orange County Public Defender’s Office has revealed that the illegal use of jailhouse informants has resulted in the unraveling of 57 homicide and other felony cases in Orange County. This number is significantly higher than previous estimates, which had placed the affected cases at around 12. The analysis, partially using data from the district attorney’s office, shows that convictions have been overturned, charges dropped, and sentences dramatically reduced.
The use of jailhouse informants by Orange County prosecutors and law enforcement officers has been confirmed by state justices and federal investigators to have systematically violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. These informants, some of whom were paid up to $1,500 per case, were used to extract confessions from targeted inmates, even though many of them had already been charged and had legal representation.
The new analysis reveals that 35 homicide cases and 22 serious felony cases have fallen apart due to various reasons. Some informants resorted to using threats of violence to coerce their targets into talking, which is prohibited by law. Additionally, prosecutors failed to disclose the use of informants and their histories to defense attorneys, while Orange County sheriff’s deputies refused to testify about their involvement in the snitch operation. The growing scrutiny surrounding the scandal also led prosecutors to become reluctant to put jailhouse informants on the witness stand, further damaging some cases.
All of the impacted cases occurred during the tenure of former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and some resulted in the release of potentially dangerous defendants who were believed to be affiliated with prison and street gangs. While current District Attorney Todd Spitzer has implemented stricter regulations on the use of jailhouse informants, the consequences of his predecessor’s actions are still being assessed by Sanders and others for ongoing cases.
Spitzer’s office has disputed Sanders’ numbers, arguing that the use of informants may not have directly caused some cases to go awry and that Sanders may have over-counted cases with multiple defendants. However, Sanders stands by his analysis. Spitzer has expressed a commitment to reviewing each of these cases and ensuring that all discovery obligations have been met. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has also expanded the role of its Conviction Integrity Unit to review any claims of wrongful conviction.
The misuse of informants was initially discovered by Sanders during the defense of mass killer Scott Dekraai, whose case was compromised due to the illegal use and concealment of informants. This revelation led to intense scrutiny of Orange County’s informant practices. According to Sanders’ analysis, more than half of the impacted cases involved veteran informers and Mexican Mafia members Raymond “Puppet” Cuevas and Jose “Bouncer” Paredes. These informants received substantial financial compensation and leniency on their own charges.
The analysis highlights the backfiring tactics employed by Cuevas and Paredes, who were placed in the same cells or vehicles as targeted inmates and often moved across county lines to carry out their informant activities. However, their actions ultimately undermined the cases they were involved in. One notable example is their involvement in the case of Michael Wesley Baker, a suspect in the killing of his 82-year-old grandmother, Sara Mowrey. Cuevas and Paredes were deployed by Anaheim police in 2013, but their tactics did not yield the desired results.