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Man pleads guilty in California salon killings

By Amy Taxin

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A disgruntled father embroiled in a custody dispute with his ex-wife pleaded guilty Friday to murdering her and seven others in a shooting rampage at a California hair salon.

Scott Dekraai, a 44-year-old former tugboat operator, looked straight at the judge as he entered his pleas to eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder with special circumstances and enhancements in a courtroom packed with the tearful relatives of his victims.

"After today you will not be an alleged killer anymore, you are going to be a convicted murderer," Judge Thomas M. Goethals told Dekraai.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Dekraai, who had been locked in a bitter custody dispute with ex-wife Michelle Fournier over their 8-year-old son when he entered Salon Meritage in Seal Beach in October 2011 wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three weapons.

Dekraai shot and killed Fournier before turning his guns on the salon owner, stylists and customers. On his way out, he killed a man who was sitting in his car in the parking lot. Police arrested Dekraai within minutes of the rampage, which left eight dead and one wounded.

"'I know what I did,'" he told an arresting officer, according to a police affidavit.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders said Dekraai wanted to enter the plea to spare the victims a lengthy trial while he continues to fight a potential death sentence.

On Friday, relatives dabbed their eyes and cried quietly in the courtroom as the judge read the names of the victims.

"It's just a real slap of reality," Paul Wilson, whose wife was killed in the attack, said after the hearing.

Wilson also said he didn't buy the reason Dekraai gave for entering the plea and suspected it had more to do with strategy than remorse.

"This is not a compassionate man, or I wouldn't be standing here today," Wilson told reporters.

After the hearing, Sanders said that Dekraai had been talking about changing his plea for some time, and he was relieved to have done so.

"He's not doing this for a tactical reason," Sanders said. "He believes this is absolutely the right thing to do."

In his two decades working at the Orange County public defender's office, Sanders said he has never had a capital murder defendant plead guilty.

The case has long focused on whether Dekraai should be sentenced to life in prison or death, with victims' relatives divided over his fate.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said his office would continue to seek death for Dekraai to honor the wishes of some of the victims' relatives and his responsibility to county residents.

"This is a horrendous case. This is a multiple-murder case against innocent and defenseless victims, and the only thing that might even approach justice in a case like this is for us to seek the death penalty," he said.

Some victims' relatives said they hope to witness Dekraai's execution someday. Others said they'd rather see him suffer out his life in prison than be put quietly to sleep - a stark contrast to the violent death their loved ones faced.

"I'd like him to find a more eye-for-an-eye sort of demise in general population," said Bethany Webb, whose sister was killed and whose mother was the sole survivor of the attack. "He's a coward. Those guys are going to eat him up."

Dekraai, who was injured in a boating accident in 2007, is due back in court on Monday for a hearing underway on allegations by Sanders that authorities misused jailhouse informants in violation of Dekraai's constitutional rights, and tried to conceal related evidence.

Sanders has asked Goethals to recuse the district attorney's office and remove the death penalty as an option in the case over the allegations, which prosecutors have denied.

Goethals said he expects to rule on the allegations in about four to six weeks. If he doesn't strike the death penalty, a penalty phase to determine whether Dekraai ought to face a life in prison or a death sentence would follow.

In the courtroom Friday, some relatives wore T-shirts and buttons printed with the names and faces of the victims or with a heart-shaped logo designed to unite the seaside community in the wake of the tragedy.

About a year after the killings, the salon reopened, and six of the original employees returned to work.

But even as the community convalesces and the court proceedings amble on, victims' relatives struggle with the loss. Craig Burke, Fournier's brother, points to a giant heart tattooed on his chest along weeks after the killings to memorialize his sister.

"People say you end this court thing, it is going to change everything. It's not going to change nothing," Burke said. "You're going to live with this your whole life."

8 Killed in Southern California Salon Shooting

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sailgala May 03 2014 at 12:17 PM

Ok.... lets be real....who really 'rot's or 'suffers' with life in prison. Three meals a day, warm bed, no responsibilities, no job and in many case's live better in prison than on the outside. It's a shame the 'Death Penalty' process takes so long however I'd rather my taxes only pay for the next 10 years of his upkeep than the possible 30+ years he may live.

Really...it's the fault of 'Family Courts'. Who in their right mind believes a man capable of such a horrendous act should ever be given the responsibility of joint custody.
To 'lifeinsunshine' ....you consider this as he just 'snapped'.....perhaps the judge was right as you seem to lack good judgment yourself.

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3 replies
ppllaanntt May 03 2014 at 10:11 AM

Women and lawyers keep screwing guys over in divorce court and this is bound to happen.

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1 reply
Gregory ppllaanntt May 03 2014 at 10:44 AM

But since he has the propensity to do this, I think joint custody was certainly out of the question in this case. This exact type of behavior is why judges have to decide who gets custody. The custody dispute (including the women and lawyers!) didn't make him do it - he chose to do it and blamed the custody dispute. Another sad case of not taking responsibility for your own actions! Seems to run rampant these days!!

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LewTag May 03 2014 at 9:54 AM

What's done is done and no one can go back to do anything over differently...so it must all be god's will...not the manmade god of holy books but the prime mover in the universe...generator, operator, destroyer...GOD...it does whatever it wants with whomever it wants...ergo theofatalism...google for details...www.theofatalism.org

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
Steve-a-rino May 03 2014 at 9:47 AM

Another excellent candidate for a "botched" execution. His victims had no rights but of course we'll make sure he's coddled and cared for over the next 40 years or so.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
j1935waspm May 03 2014 at 9:46 AM

If that is a case that truly deserves the death penalty, there are none.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
opticianandynj4u May 03 2014 at 9:40 AM

HE LOOKS LIKE A HOMICIDAL MANIAC NAMED ANDY I KNOW IN NJ

Flag Reply +3 rate up
opticianandynj4u May 03 2014 at 9:39 AM

HEY DONT BLAME THE GUY HE GOT A BAD HAIRCUT IN THAT PLACE AND THEN HAD HIS MONEY STOLEN FROM HIM BY A CROOKED BINGO CALLER NAMED BABZ

Flag Reply +3 rate up
njenel May 03 2014 at 9:37 AM

WHAT HAVE THESE IDIOT'S BEEN DOING FOR OVER TWO YEARS ??????????

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Richard May 03 2014 at 9:32 AM

The court needs to have him answer the question: why did you shoot all those other people too?

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1 reply
shipfixr Richard May 03 2014 at 10:15 AM

I wonder the same thing.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
therobbdogg01 May 03 2014 at 9:24 AM

Execute the moron, like Monday, on TV. He did it, admitted it, and therefor he should get an express lane pass to the hangman's noose. We need to bring back the old days of quick justice and public hanging. Ever since "society" deemed it too grotesque, the population has no sense of what happens when you commit this type of Hyannis crime. In cases with unarguable physical evidence and eye witness testimony, death sentences should be carried out immediately. Let people see it (especially teens) and show them there are consequences to actions and it needs to be quick too, not 15 to 20 years on death row.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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