Originally posted at 10:08 a.m. May 2, 2014. Edited with new details.
By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
The man responsible for the worst mass killing in Orange County history pleaded guilty today to murdering his ex-wife and six other people at the Seal Beach salon where she worked and gunning down an eighth victim nearby.
"It is the right thing to do, your honor," Scott Dekraai told Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals as he entered his plea to eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder involving a ninth victim who survived.
Goethals told Dekraai: "After today, you will not be an alleged killer anymore. You will be a convicted murderer, do you understand that?"
"That's very clear, your honor," Dekraai responded.
Dekraai also admitted a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making him eligible for the death sentence being sought by the prosecution. Jurors in an upcoming penalty trial will recommend whether he should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison for the Oct. 12, 2011, massacre at Salon Meritage.
Dekraai first pleaded guilty to killing his 48-year-old ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, and then admitted turning his gun on her friend and client, Christy Wilson. As he entered his plea on Wilson, her husband, Paul Wilson, cast his gaze downward and rubbed his brow.
"Just another dose of reality that this happened to her and I'm going through this," Wilson said later, when asked what he was thinking as Dekraai acknowledged killing his wife.
"Actually hearing her name and 'guilty' makes it very real," Wilson said. "Today we have a significant bit of closure."
Wilson said though he wishes Dekraai would get the death penalty, it's more likely the defendant will die in prison of natural causes, so he favors life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said he is undeterred in his efforts to put Dekraai on death row.
"I'm certainly not going to change my opinion on seeking the death penalty in this case," Rackauckas told reporters after the hearing.
Dekraai, 44, signaled Monday that he would enter a guilty plea instead of going through a trial, which was scheduled for June.
The plea clears the way for his attorneys to continue their focus on an evidentiary hearing alleging widespread governmental misconduct in the case of Dekraai and multiple other defendants over the way investigators collected evidence with help from jailhouse snitches.
Goethals said he expects to make a ruling on the misconduct allegations by mid-June. The penalty phase is tentatively scheduled to begin Aug. 18, but it depends on whether Goethals grants the defense's request to drop the death penalty option for prosecutors.
Dekraai's attorneys also want Goethals to kick Rackauckas' office off the case. Prosecutors recently conceded another defense demand to block jurors from hearing a jailhouse recording of Dekraai appearing to sound as if he were bragging about the killings.
That recording by a jailhouse informant led defense attorneys to file the misconduct motions.
Rackauckas said he did not regret seeking the evidence.
"It looked like it was valuable evidence," he said, adding it would "indicate more about Dekraai's state of mind and his vicious attitude toward the victims, and we thought it would be helpful in the penalty phase."
Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, said his client wanted to plead guilty to spare the victims' families from enduring a trial.
Wilson and Paul Caouette, son of victim David Caouette, doubted that was the motivation.
"I don't believe him," Caouette said. "I don't think he's remorseful at all."
Dekraai and his ex-wife had been embroiled in child custody dispute over their son, who was 8 at the time. The defendant told investigators after his arrest that he and Fournier had been in court less than a week before the shooting for what Fournier's attorney would later describe as an uneventful hearing.
The two shared custody of the boy, but Dekraai wanted to make all of the decisions about his son's schooling and health, according to Fournier's attorney, John Cate Jr.
On the morning of the shootings, the two got into an argument over the phone about the dispute, and Dekraai armed himself with three handguns and ammunition and donned on a bulletproof vest but did not go directly to the beauty salon where his ex-wife worked. Instead, he stopped at Bolsa Chica State Beach, where he "pondered" killing her, according to police records.
When Dekraai made up his mind, he drove to the salon and shot Fournier first before turning his aim to others in the shop, including one of Fournier's friends, who had testified against him in the court battle, according to police.
One witness testified before a grand jury that Dekraai calmly left the Salon Meritage after the shootings.
"He had zero expression on his face," witness Kenneth Caleb told the grand jury, adding Dekraai walked in a "casual calm stroll, as if you were just enjoying the park."
Dekraai fatally shot seven in the salon and then killed Caouette, 64, in his Land Rover parked near the salon.
Fournier's brother, Butch, said the defendant's son is doing well. Fournier's daughter, Chelsea, who is helping to raise the boy, agreed, saying, "He's just a really happy kid. He just loves life."
In addition to Dekraai's ex-wife and Caouette, the victims were the salon's owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; Laura Lee Webb Elody, 46, and Christy Wilson, 47. Hattie Stretz, 75, survived her injuries.