Scott Evans Dekraai pleaded guilty Friday in Orange County Superior Court to a 2011 shooting rampage that left his former wife and seven others dead in a Seal Beach beauty salon, Orange County's largest-ever mass murder.
In addition to eight counts of first-degree murder, the 44-year-old boatman from Huntington Beach pleaded guilty in to a single count of attempted murder for shooting a ninth victim who survived.
Armed with multiple handguns and wearing a bulletproof vest, Dekraai marched into Salon Meritage on Oct. 12, 2011, and executed his ex-wife, Michelle Marie Fournier, then shot the others that he later told police were “collateral damage.”
Family members of the victims, some wearing T-shirts commemorating a loved one or displaying a poster with photographs, packed the downtown Santa Ana courtroom of Judge Thomas M. Goethals to hear Dekraai's pleas.
Dekraai made no statement at the hearing but answered firmly and clearly, “Guilty, your honor,” as Goethals named and requested a plea for each victim.
“This was a very personal decision for Mr. Dekraai, said his lead public defender, Scott Sanders. "He felt he owed at a minimum to let the families know he should spend the rest of his life in prison. And that he will never challenge that on appeal.”
At a press conference afterwards, several families expressed relief at the plea, but some doubted Dekraai’s remorse.
A decision on whether Dekraai will get the death penalty or life without possibility of parole will not come until June, when an unprecedented hearing is completed on the conduct of the Orange County district attorney’s office.
Sanders has alleged in court records that prosecutors ran a secret jailhouse informant network that violated Dekraai's constitutional right to a fair trial and as a remedy is seeking the elimination of the death penalty.
At the press conference, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said there will be “no compromise” and his prosecution team will “not change our opinion” on seeking the death penalty.
The hearing is expected to continue for several more weeks. Goethals said Friday he will likely rule on the defense request on the death penalty by mid-June.
A jury trial on such a penalty for Dekraai would begin after Aug. 18 under the schedule approved by Goethals Friday.
Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at email@example.com.