Originally posted at 4:23 p.m. April 28, 2014. Edited with new details.
By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
The man accused of murdering seven people inside a Seal Beach salon and one man in the parking lot outside the business -- in the worst mass killing in Orange County history -- will plead guilty, his attorney announced in court today.
Scott Dekraai, 44, is facing a possible death sentence for the Oct. 12, 2011, massacre at the Salon Meritage. His attorney, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, said Dekraai decided to enter the plea this Friday to spare the victims' families from enduring a trial.
Sanders had said previously that Dekraai would be willing to plead guilty if prosecutors dropped the death penalty as a possible sentence.
Dekraai's plea on Friday, however, will not include any deal with prosecutors, meaning he could still be sent to Death Row.
"Nothing's changed," Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons said of his office's decision to seek the ultimate punishment for Dekraai.
"We've said from the get-go this is a death penalty case. So, from our perspective, nothing's changed," he said.
The other alternative for Dekraai is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bethany Webb, sister of victim Laura Lee Webb Elody and daughter of the lone survivor, 75-year-old Hattie Stretz, said the main benefit to the plea is the change in the defendant's status.
"I think one of the best things about this is we can stop referring to him as the accused," Webb said. "He'll be referred to as the murderer he is."
Webb said she opposed the death penalty before her sister was killed and has not changed her mind because in part she fears an innocent person could be put to death.
"I don't believe two wrongs make a right," Webb said. "I don't think the worst thing that could happen to him is he gets (overdosed) to death. That's not what my sister got or the other seven people got."
Paul Caouette, son of victim David Caouette, said the defendant's plea matters little because the guilt phase of the trial would be fairly quick and uncontested anyway.
"I personally don't feel any relief, but him accepting it is something he should have done a long time ago," said Caouette, who hopes Dekraai is sentenced to death.
Sanders said his client began discussing the plea with him last week as they were preparing for the guilt phase of the trial planned for June.
"He's felt he really needs to give the victims the sense he's not seeking to have this go on forever," Sanders said of the most recent legal wrangling in the case. "He wants (victims' families) to know he's ready to accept that he's going to spend the rest of his life in prison ... The families will know once he pleads he's never getting out, he's never arguing to get out."
According to his lawyer, the defendant was also mindful of not wanting to "waste the court's time" because he has "a lot of respect" for the judge in the case, Thomas Goethals.
Sanders has been at the center of a weeks-long hearing challenging the prosecution's use of jailhouse informants -- in Dekraai's case and others. Prosecutors announced last week they would not use a recording of Dekraai made by a jailhouse informant during the trial that makes it sound as if the defendant was bragging about the shootings.
Informant Fernando Perez made the recording in October 2011, about a week following the Oct. 12, 2011, massacre at the Salon Meritage.
Dekraai's attorneys began seeking information about Perez and how he came to make the recording in January 2013. Those efforts ultimately led defense attorneys to file a more than 500-page legal motion in February 2014 alleging a conspiracy of government misconduct to seek to have the death penalty taken off the table, prevent jurors from hearing the recording and get the Orange County District Attorney's Office booted from the case in favor of the state Attorney General's Office.
Goethals has been hearing evidence on the motion since last month.
Dekraai is charged with eight counts of murder, including the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, and one count of attempted murder involving Stretz, who survived her injuries.
He is accused of walking into the salon and gunning down his 48-year-old ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, before opening fire on others inside the business.
Also killed were the salon's owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Elody, 46; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; Christy Wilson, 47; and David Caouette, 64, who was gunned down in his Land Rover in the parking lot outside the salon.