A former tugboat operator who was in a custody fight with his ex-wife pleaded guilty Friday to killing her and seven others in a shooting rampage at a California hair salon in 2011.
Scott Dekraai, 44, shackled in a crowded courtroom, looked only 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 Orange County Superior Court.
"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 have said they will seek the death penalty.
Dekraai's lawyer has said his client entered the pleas to spare victims' relatives from sitting through a trial. However, he said Dekraai will fight to keep from being sentenced to death.
Relatives dabbed their eyes and cried quietly in the courtroom as the judge read the names of the victims.
Some said afterward that they welcomed the plea as a step forward, Still, hearing the names of their loved ones in court was a painful reminder of their loss.
"It's another dose of reality in dealing with this," said Paul Wilson, whose wife was killed in the attack.
Wilson also said he didn't buy the reason Dekraai gave for entering the plea more than two years after the killings. He 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.
Dekraai donned a bulletproof vest before heading to the Seal Beach salon where his ex-wife worked as a stylist in October 2011. Authorities said he shot and killed Michelle Fournier before turning his gun on the salon's owner and spraying Salon Meritage with bullets.
After leaving the building, Dekraai shot and killed a man who was sitting in his car in a parking lot, authorities said.
Police arrested Dekraai, who had been locked in a bitter custody dispute with Fournier over their 8-year-old son, within minutes.
"'I know what I did,'" he told an arresting officer, according to a police affidavit.
The salon reopened about a year later, with six of the original employees returning to work.
Since the shootings, victims' relatives have pleaded with the judge at numerous hearings to hasten the case to trial. In March, the judge severed the guilt and penalty phases to prevent additional delays as Dekraai's lawyer Scott Sanders argues motions related to prosecutors' efforts to seek the death penalty.
Sanders wants the district attorney's office recused from Dekraai's case and the death penalty taken off the table over allegations that authorities misused jailhouse informants and didn't turn over evidence to defense attorneys. Prosecutors have denied the claims.