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Accused Seal Beach killer now faces fight over death penalty

Despite his announced decision to plead guilty to mass murder, the man accused of fatally shooting eight people at a Seal Beach salon still faces what could be a lengthy trial to determine whether he should be put to death.

Scott Dekraai will plead guilty to eight counts of special-circumstance murder and one count of attempted murder in the 2011 rampage, his attorney said Monday.

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Dekraai, who was arrested shortly after the shooting, had previously offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole, but that offer was rejected by the Orange County district attorney's office because prosecutors refused to drop the death penalty.

The intended plea does not involve a negotiated agreement for leniency, and prosecutors said little had changed as a result of it.

"The battle in this case has always been the penalty phase," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders said Dekraai's decision was based on his feeling that "he really needs to give at least the victims the sense that he's not seeking to have this go on forever. He thinks he owes to them at least the knowledge that he's willing to accept responsibility."

Dekraai, according to prosecutors, was seeking revenge on his ex-wife when he opened fire at the Salon Meritage. There is substantial evidence in the Oct. 12, 2011, shooting: Dekraai was arrested after he was driving away from the scene and soon confessed to investigators, according to court records. Dekraai had been involved in a custody dispute with his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, who worked at the salon and was one of those killed, prosecutors said.

Dekraai's trial, which like many death-penalty cases has been slow to start, has been delayed even longer as the court examines defense allegations of the improper use of jailhouse informants in this case and others.

Since mid-March, the court has heard testimony from prosecutors, law enforcement and informants as it examines whether jailhouse informants were, as the defense contends, repeatedly deployed in violation of the constitutional rights of Dekraai and other defendants, and information routinely kept from defense attorneys.

During the hearing, the head of the district attorney's homicide unit acknowledged that evidence has not been disclosed in certain cases, a revelation that could lead to new trials for some convicted criminals. Last week, prosecutors said they would no longer seek to introduce recordings of Dekraai speaking to informant Fernando Perez, which they hoped would help prove that Dekraai deserves the death penalty.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said Monday that Dekraai's plea does not resolve the motions filed as a result those allegations, and he indicated that he will continue hearing testimony on the informant issues.

Paul Caouette, whose father, David, was shot and killed in the parking lot outside the salon, said he had mixed feelings about Dekraai's decision to plead guilty.

"I don't know if it's any resolution," he said. "I think accepting his guilt, that's a good thing; but in my opinion, he deserves the death penalty."

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