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Seal Beach mass murderer sentenced to life in prison for salon killings

Scott Dekraai, accused of killing eight people in a Seal Beach beauty salon, listens while his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, addresses the court during a motion hearing in Santa Ana on March 18, 2014.
AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Mark Boster, Pool
File: Scott Dekraai, accused of killing eight people in a Seal Beach beauty salon, listens while his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, addresses the court during a motion hearing in Santa Ana on March 18, 2014.

A California man was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison without parole Friday for killing his ex-wife and seven others in a shooting rampage at the hair salon where she worked.

Scott Dekraai, a 47-year-old former tugboat operator, was sentenced in Orange County for the Oct. 12, 2011 killings to which he pleaded guilty three years ago.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled in August that Dekraai could not receive the death penalty because of misconduct on the part of OC prosecutors and law enforcement. 

At Dekraai's sentencing hearing, Goethals told the victims' family and friends gathered in the courtroom, "the criminal justice system here in Orange County has largely failed you."

Dekraai was also sentenced to seven years to life for the attempted murder of Hattie Stretz, plus additional years for using a gun. Dekraai “would have to serve more than 200 years in prison before he would ever become eligible for parole," Goethals said. 

Dozens of family members of victims and survivors of the shooting gave emotional testimony during the sentencing hearing. 

Renee Fournier Hudson, the sister of Dekraai's ex-wife Michelle Fournier, told Dekraai, "you left my nephew with no mother and a murderer for a father.”

The husband of Seal Beach victim Christy Wilson, Paul Wilson, repeatedly called Dekraai a "coward" and said "I can only hope your years in prison are rough."

Salon employee Gordon Gallego spoke of hiding in the salon bathroom while the shooting rampage unfolded. He recalled being trapped in by the slumped body of colleague and friend Laura Webb on the other side of the door.

“I am haunted by the whisper of her last breath,” Gallego said. 

Doug Childers, who was nearby when the shooting started and ran to the salon to help, called Dekraai "a monster."  

Childers said he fell into a deep depression after witnessing the "carnage" wreaked by Dekraai that day. "I fell off a wagon that I had been on for quite a while," Childers said.

Throughout the hour or so of testimony, Dekraai frequently sat with head down and shoulders slumped. Once he blurted out that he was sorry.  

When it was his turn to address the court, Dekraai pulled a hand-written statement out of a brown portfolio with shaky hands. 

"I've been waiting a long time to apologize," he said.

"Please believe me when I say I wish I could turn back the hands of time and erase the horror of that terrible October day and replace it with a trademark small-town, peaceful, fall day."

Dekraai also apologized to his son "for failing him as a father and a role model." 

Dekraai's case has dragged on for years due to a scandal over authorities' use of informants to cull information from Dekraai and others housed in the county's jails, and failure to turn over evidence to defense teams.

While authorities can receive information from informants, they can't have snitches deliberately seek out information from inmates with legal representation.

Dekraai's public defender Scott Sanders began seeking records about informants after he found out that a known jailhouse informant had been speaking with Dekraai from an adjacent cell. Sanders accused authorities of trying to cover up a department-wide snitch program that intentionally placed informants next to high-profile defendants.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the county district attorney's office from the Dekraai case in 2015 after finding deputies lied or withheld evidence about snitches.

The state Attorney General took over the prosecution and also recommended the death sentence. But when Goethals discovered that sheriff's authorities continued to fail to turn over informant-related records, he removed capital punishment as an option, saying the killer couldn't be guaranteed a fair trial.

Dekraai pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

He had been locked in a custody dispute with ex-wife Michelle Fournier over their 8-year-old son when he entered Salon Meritage in Seal Beach wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three weapons.

Dekraai shot and killed Fournier, 48, along with the salon owner Randy Fannin, 62, stylists Victoria Buzzo, 54, Laura Webb, 46, and Christy Wilson, 47, customers Lucia Kondas, 65, and Michele Fast, 47, and David Caouette, 64, who was sitting in his car in the parking lot. 

Dekraai was arrested within minutes of the rampage.

Relatives of the victims have been exhausted by the delays in the case. Some wanted prosecutors to agree to a life sentence for Dekraai to avoid years of appeals.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday that he would “abide by Judge Goethal’s ruling to preclude the death penalty,” meaning he won’t appeal the decision.   

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement that it was “a somber day for the people of Orange County.” He said he disagreed with Judge Goethals’ decision to sentence Dekraai to life in prison instead of letting him be tried and potentially sentenced to death.

“The OCDA believes the defendant's crimes were so wicked as to deserve the ultimate penalty.”

This story has been updated.