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Man charged in Orange County's deadliest mass shooting pleads not guilty

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 2:03 PM EST, Tue November 29, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Scott Evans Dekraai, 41, is charged with killing his ex-wife and 7 others
  • He pleads not guilty to 8 counts of first-degree murder
  • He also pleads not guilty to a felony count of attempted murder of a 9th victim
  • Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A man who allegedly shot his ex-wife and seven other people to death in the deadliest shooting in Orange County, California, history pleaded not guilty Tuesday, prosecutors said.

An Orange County Superior Court judge scheduled an April 24, 2012, preliminary hearing for Scott Evans Dekraai, 41. Dekraai is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and a felony count of attempted murder in the October 12 shooting at the Salon Meritage hair salon in the small coastal community of Seal Beach, a district attorney's spokeswoman said.

The first-degree murder charges carry the special circumstance of multiple murder. The attempted murder count is for a ninth victim who was wounded.

Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty. Dekraai is being held without bond.

Dekraai and his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, 48, were battling over custody of their 8-year-old son, and the dispute was the motive in the shooting, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in October. The prosecutor called Dekraai "a methodical and merciless killer."

On the morning of the shooting, Dekraai and Fournier got into an argument about child custody, authorities said.

"We're sort of guessing. We believe that the custody battle wasn't going well for him. We don't know the contents of their conversation or anything," Rackauckas said.

Hours later, the gunfire rampage at the salon, just blocks from the ocean, unfolded, authorities said.

"He also considered the people who were friends and who worked with his ex-wife were enablers, and he didn't have much use for them either," Rackauckas said.

The gunman was armed with three weapons -- a 9 mm Springfield, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, and a Heckler & Koch .45 -- and was wearing body armor during the shooting rampage, Rackauckas said. He used at least two of those guns, the prosecutor said.

Rackauckas summarized the mass shooting, saying Dekraai "walked through the salon shooting anyone close enough to hit. He stopped to reload during this spree, and he continued gunning people down. He was not satisfied with murdering his intended target, his ex-wife. For almost two minutes, Dekraai shot victim after victim, executing people by shooting them in the head and chest.

"He shot eight people inside the salon. But he was not done. He then walked out of the salon and shot a ninth victim, a male who was sitting nearby in a parked Range Rover. The reason for this rampage: revenge," he said.

"We believe that the defendant committed this unimaginable act of violence because he wanted to kill his ex-wife over a custody dispute concerning their 8-year-old son. He was willing to end any life in his path, and he did. Clearly this two-minute murder spree could not have been about loving his son," the prosecutor said.

While Dekraai allegedly carried out the mass murder, his son was sitting alone in the principal's office at school, waiting for his mother or father to pick him up, authorities said.

"That little boy is also a victim. He is now left to mourn the murder of his mother and grow up with the knowledge that his father (allegedly) committed a mass murder," Rackauckas said. "What sick, twisted fatherly love is this?"

In addition to Fournier, of Los Alamitos, the people killed were salon employee Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, of Laguna Beach; David Caouette, 64, of Seal Beach, who was in the vehicle outside the salon; salon employee Laura Lee Elody, 46, of Huntington Beach; salon owner Randy Lee Fannin, 62, of Murrieta; salon client Michele Daschbach Fast, 47, of Seal Beach; salon client Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65, of Huntington Beach; and salon employee Christy Lynn Wilson, 47, of Lakewood, authorities said.

Dekraai allegedly shot Caouette, who was in the parked vehicle, in the head through a closed front passenger side window, authorities said.

The ninth victim, Harriet Stretz, 73, of Los Alamitos was at the salon getting her hair done by her daughter, Laura Elody, who was among the victims.

"We do know that the victims were shot multiple times each," Rackauckas said.

About 20 people were inside the salon during the shooting, and many of them were "playing dead, hiding in back rooms, trying to get back behind things, just trying to stay out of his way," Rackauckas said.

Police arrested Dekraai without incident as he was trying to leave the scene in a vehicle two blocks from the salon, police said. Dekraai was in possession of the three guns and "a significant amount of ammunition in his truck," according to prosecutors.

In the past several months, Fournier complained to Seal Beach police about Dekraai picking up their son from school earlier than the court-ordered mandate, Tim Olson of the Seal Beach police said. That matter was forwarded to family court, and Olson said he didn't know of the complaint's disposition.

In 2007, in Long Beach, Dekraai's father-in-law applied for a temporary restraining order, but there was no follow-up, Rackauckas said.

An online search of Orange County court records shows the couple filed for divorce in 2007. A child custody evaluator was appointed by the court in April, records show.

Fournier said in court papers that Dekraai was mentally unstable, had threatened to kill himself or someone else and "was almost manic when it comes to demanding absolute right to control our son," CNN affiliate KTLA said.

The couple was in court the day before the shooting, and a judge had kept custody between them equal, KTLA said.

In 1994, Dekraai filed for bankruptcy, according to court records.

The Salon Meritage is located on the Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach, which residents describe as a small and "fairly intimate" coastal town.

"We have multiple years with zero homicides, so this obviously is an unusual and tragic circumstance," Seal Beach police Sgt. Steve Bowles said.

The shooting is the deadliest in Orange County history. In 1976, Edward Charles Allaway shot nine people, killing seven, at California State University Fullerton.

CNN's Traci Tamura, Gabriel Ramirez, Ashley Hayes and Carey Bodenheimer contributed to this report.

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