Scott Evans Dekraai pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning in the shooting deaths of eight people at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach last month.
Dekraai, sporting a grayish beard, appeared at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana to enter the plea during his arraignment. About 20 family members of the victims, along with several Seal Beach police detectives, lined the courtroom.
Dekraai was arrested a few blocks from the shooting scene within minutes of the Oct. 12 rampage, armed with three guns and a bulletproof vest. During his first court appearance Oct. 14, his then-attorney, Robert Curtis, prompted speculation that an insanity plea could be in the works by discussing Dekraai’s antipsychotic medications in court. Curtis also alluded to a possible change of venue because of the high profile nature of the case.
However, since then, Curtis has been recused from the case.
On Tuesday, Dekraai's new attorney, Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders, objected to having press photographers in the courtroom, implying that the media scrutiny would make it difficult for Dekraai to get a fair trial. He also implied it could be difficult to put together a complete defense in the death penalty case by the preliminary hearing scheduled for April 24.
After the hearing, several victim family members huddled together, arms around one another, to address the media.
"I feel he's [Dekraai] just a cowardly shell of a man," said a tearful Paul Wilson, the husband of victim "His soul has been in hell for a very, very long time."
The family members vowed to attend every court hearing and, if the death penalty is imposed, Dekraai's execution.
"[Christy] gives me the courage and the power to have a voice," Wilson said, "and it's going to be a big voice."
Butch Fournier, the brother of Dekraai's ex-wife Michelle Fournier, the alleged killer's main target, said the families were ready for a possible insanity plea by Dekraai.
“No matter what, for the rest of [Dekraai's] life, he'll spend 23 of 24 hours in a cell,” Fournier said. “If he does get the death penalty, I will be there gazing through the glass, I promise you that."
Michelle Fournier's adult daughter Chelsea Huff, who also attended the court hearing, has custody of Michelle and Dekraai's 8-year-old son, Dominic. Huff said she had been working three jobs, including one at an equity firm in Los Angeles, but gave that up to care for Dominic and keep him in Seal Beach.
"I love the Seal Beach community," she said. "I grew up there. I'm just glad he has the chance to grow up there."
Huff said adjusting to her new role has had its challenges.
"It's definitely hard to change the sister/brother role to being a parent," Huff said.
Michelle Fournier’s little brother Craig Burke came from his home in Lake Havasu, Ariz., to attend to the arraignment. He said he plans to be at every court hearing until Dekraai is convicted.
Burke said he also wouldn’t be surprised if Dekraai changes his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
“What else can he do? It’s the only chance he has,” said Burke. “But I never saw that side of Scott. Scott was always respectful and polite around me because I was the brother who would have done something if he wasn’t.”
According to Burke, Dekraai was abusive to his sister throughout their relationship.
“She only told me about it a month before this happened. I wish she’d have told me long before this,” said Burke. “She was always trying to make it work when stuff was going bad.”
Celebrating the holidays without Michelle has been difficult, added Burke. Reliving the tragedy through court hearings and news reports has been painful too, he said.
Burke said he worries about Michelle’s children remaining in Seal Beach because it’s just too close to the tragedy.
“I am worried about Chelsea and Dominic. They can’t get way from it like I can. You can’t expose someone to that every day. Dominic goes to school a few blocks from where it happened every day.”
On the day of his mother’s funeral, footage from the shooting was on the news while Dominic was in the other room, said Burke.
“We don’t know if he heard it. It’s scary. It’s a lot for him to take,” Burke said. “We all lost a big part of our lives, but he lost both parents. He loves his dad,” said Burke. “We don’t say anything bad about his dad in front of him. My anger toward his dad in front of him is not going to help Dominic."
Dekraai is accused of carrying out , 500 Pacific Coast Highway, about 1:20 p.m. Oct. 12. He remains jailed without bail. The eight people killed were salon co-owner Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody, 46; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47; hairstylist Michelle Marie Fournier, 48; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; and David Caouette, 64. Another woman who was shot -- 73-year-old Hattie Stretz -- survived.
Investigators believe Dekraai committed the murders as an act of revenge against his ex-wife, an employee at the salon. The two were locked in a bitter custody dispute over their son.