By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California man who killed eight people at a hair salon in 2011 was sentenced to life without parole Friday in a courtroom packed with sobbing victims’ relatives, who shared vivid memories of their loved ones and wished the shooter a painful end in prison.
Scott Dekraai, a 47-year-old former tugboat operator, received eight consecutive life terms for the murders of his hairstylist ex-wife, her co-workers and others in the tight-knit seaside community of Seal Beach.
Paul Wilson, whose wife, Christy, was among those killed, said he would finally feel closure after six years of hearings. He wished a short life for the man who deprived his son of maternal support while battling cancer and his daughter the joy of her mother on her wedding day.
“It is so gut-wrenching, especially because this coward is still allowed to breathe the same air that I do in this courtroom,” he told the judge, before turning to Dekraai and saying, “I can only hope your years in prison are rough.”
The killings rocked the idyllic Orange County community known for its scenic pier and small-town feel, devastating hundreds of relatives, friends and community members.
Even though Dekraai pleaded guilty three years ago, his case has dragged on because of a long-running scandal over authorities’ use of jailhouse snitches to cull information from him and others housed in the county’s jails.
While authorities can receive information from informants, they can’t have snitches deliberately seek out information from inmates with legal representation.
Judge Thomas M. Goethals told a shackled Dekraai he likely would have faced a death sentence if not for the scandal, which he felt compelled him to remove execution as an option to ensure a fair trial.
“The gates of hell flew open, and you emerged as the face of evil in this community,” Goethals told Dekraai. “Those rulings had nothing to do with you personally. Or the evil brutality that you inflicted on these people. The law required me to make those rulings.”
Dekraai apologized to victims’ relatives and acknowledged he could have found a peaceful solution to his problems. “I am to blame for the total loss of self-control,” he said.
Dekraai had been locked in a bitter custody dispute with ex-wife Michelle Fournier over their then-8-year-old son when he entered Salon Meritage in October 2011 wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three weapons.
He shot and killed Fournier before turning his guns on the salon owner, stylists and customers, and a man sitting in his car in the parking lot. Dekraai was arrested within minutes of the rampage.
Besides Fournier, killed were Randy Fannin, Victoria Buzzo, Lucia Kondas, Laura Elody, Christy Wilson, Michelle Fast and David Caouette.
Those who survived and those who lost family said they are still struggling to heal.
Lisa Powers, who hid inside the salon’s bathroom while Dekraai was shooting, said she still remembers the smell of the gunpowder and walking over her friends’ bloodied bodies when it was finally safe to emerge.
“I have nightmares every day. I can’t even close the bathroom door when I go to the bathroom anymore,” she said. “You have hurt so many people. You don’t even know the devastation and the horrors people go through.”
Many in the courtroom in Santa Ana wore buttons and T-shirts printed with photos of their loved ones. One had an image of two of the victims laughing and the message “love is louder.”
Dekraai pleaded guilty to the eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, for which he received a term of seven years to life. He got 25 years to life for a gun enhancement on each of nine counts.
Goethals decided last month to remove capital punishment as an option after repeated failures by county authorities to furnish informant-related documents. The move came after he already had yanked the county district attorney’s office from the case over the scandal.
The state attorney general’s office, which took over the prosecution of Dekraai and had also recommended the death penalty, said Friday that California would not file an appeal.
Some victims’ relatives said they wished Dekraai had faced a death sentence. Others were simply relieved the case was over.
“I never have to look at you again,” said Butch Fournier, Michelle’s brother. “Today that ends. You finally go away for the rest of your life.”