Voices: Bethany Webb

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“We know from the grand jury report that my sister pleaded for her life, saying ‘Please don’t shoot me, you don’t have to do this. Please.’ And then he fired multiple gun shots. He heard my sister take her last breaths.”

Bethany Webb is describing the worst mass murder in the history of Orange County. Eight people were killed in the Seal Beach Salon Meritage, including her 46-year-old  sister, Laura Webb Elody, a salon employee; her 73-year-old mother, Hattie Stretz, was seriously injured, but survived.

The 54-year-old Webb has always been opposed to the death penalty, and after Scott Dekraai walked into the beauty salon on October 12, 2011, to kill his ex-wife, and seven others, her opposition didn’t waver. “I want to be better than him. We are not the same person. He’s not going to put hate in my heart. If he ever takes responsibility for what he did, understands the devastation he caused, feels remorse, and he lives for a long time with the realization of what he did, the punishment of life would be so much worse.”

She is opposed for many reasons, chief among them the fact that a significant number of inmates have been exonerated from death row, and the probability of killing an innocent person is too high. “Not for me, and not for Laura are you going to kill somebody innocent. I know what that feels like, to lose an innocent person.”

But the legal nightmare surrounding Dekraai’s case continues more than four years later, and it could be five years or more before it is finally settled. Dekraai pleaded guilty in May, 2014, but Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas decided to seek the death penalty, against the wishes of several of the families, including Webb, who says, “Why would I want that? To be as ugly as him? To be as detached from human compassion as he is? Every time we execute someone we are condoning murder, saying murder is okay in some circumstances.”

During evidentiary proceedings prior to the penalty phase of the trial, the presiding judge found that the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices lied or withheld evidence on the use of jailhouse informants, and last March removed the DA from the case and assigned it to the State Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office is appealing that ruling, and the families were told the appeal alone could take years. Webb says that if the DA had agreed to a life without parole sentence after Dekraai pleaded guilty, the families could have begun the healing process instead of continuing their involvement with the case and with Dekraai.

Webb says reports that the survivors are in two separate camps, bitterly divided over whether to pursue the death penalty or sentence the 46-year-old Dekraai to life without parole, are false. Some are still in favor of waiting for him to receive a death sentence, and Webb says those who are opposed understand, and honor their feelings.

“Every time we saw each other we hugged. There is no anger. One thing I know is true is that we all understand we’re hurting.”

Webb is working as a volunteer to collect signatures for the Justice That Works Act, an initiative that calls for the death penalty to be repealed in California and replaced with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Sponsored by former DPF president, Mike Farrell (who is on leave to work on the initiative), it needs 365,880 signatures by May to qualify for the November ballot.

“The biggest thing that you could do for my entire family and most of the families, is if come November, there’s no death penalty. Because then we’re done. Everybody working on this is doing the right thing. This is what I want, it’s what my mom wants.”

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