SANTA ANA, Calif. - A former tugboat worker pleaded guilty on Friday to first-degree murder for killing eight people in a Southern California hair salon where his ex-wife worked in 2011, in the worst mass shooting in Orange County history.
Scott Dekraai told the judge in a Santa Ana courtroom that he was admitting to the murder charges because it was the "right thing to do," but he could still face the death penalty in the high-profile case.
"I think it would be fair and appropriate for you to assume the worst," said Orange County superior court judge Thomas Goethals at the hearing.
Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas said he still intended to seek capital punishment.
Prosecutors say Dekraai had been locked in a bitter child custody battle with ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, 48, when he walked into Salon Meritage in Seal Beach in October 2011 carrying three guns and opened fire.
Fournier was killed, along with salon owner Randy Fannin, 62, and five others in the salon. Prosecutors said Dekraai shot his victims at close range, several of them multiple times as they lay dying.
Harriet Stretz, 73, who was having her hair styled by her daughter, Laura Lee Elody, survived her wounds although Elody was among those killed. After leaving the salon, Dekraai shot dead a 64-year-old man who was sitting in his sport utility vehicle parked outside the salon, prosecutors said.
Dekraai was arrested just blocks from the bloody scene in the heart of Seal Beach, a town about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles known by its residents as "Mayberry-by-the-Sea" for its bucolic, small-town atmosphere.
His guilty plea on Friday to eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder came weeks ahead of the scheduled start of his trial.
Fournier's parents have also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dekraai.
The salon shooting ranks as the worst mass killing in Orange County's history, surpassing the seven killed and two wounded in a shooting by janitor Edward Charles Allaway at Cal State Fullerton in 1976, according to the Orange County Register newspaper.