SANTA ANA, Calif.–Scott Evans Dekraai, 41, of Huntington Beach, is accused of walking into a Seal Beach beauty salon while wearing body armor and gunning down his ex-wife and seven other people was charged today with eight counts of murder.
Dekraai faces the death penalty if convicted, according to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
“The reason for this rampage–revenge,” Rackauckas said. “We believe the defendant committed this unimaginable act of violence because he wanted to kill his ex-wife over a custody dispute concerning their 8-year-old son.”
Of the victims, Rackauckas said Dekraai “callously snuffed them out like they were collateral damage.”
Dekraai was also charged with a single count of attempted murder for a ninth victim who remains hospitalized.
Dekraai’s arraignment was rescheduled for Nov. 29, with defense attorney Robert Curtis saying he needs more time to assemble a legal team.
Curtis asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh to order jail officials to give Dekraai his prescribed anti-psychotic medicine and to give him access to a “spinal cord stimulator” he has needed since a 2007 accident that left him disabled. Dekraai needs the device to help him walk, Curtis said.
Larsh ordered a medical evaluation of Dekraai to see what medicine he might need, but he said it was up to Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials to determine the inmate’s medical care. Larsh told Curtis to return to court if there are problems.
After the hearing, Rackauckas said, “I won’t be surprised if we get an insanity plea.”
The county’s top prosecutor said he also anticipates a possible effort by the defense to move the case out of Orange County.
Some of the victims’ loved ones directed their ire at Dekraai as they walked out of the courtroom after the hearing. One woman called out, “I hate you,” and another man called the defendant a “scumbag.”
Dekraai is accused of carrying out the massacre at Salon Meritage, 500 Pacific Coast Highway, about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday–the worst mass killing in Orange County history. He remains jailed without bail.
The eight people killed Wednesday were the salon’s owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody, 46; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47; hair stylist Michelle Marie Fournier, 48, Dekraai’s ex-wife; Michele Daschbach Fast 47, and David Caouette, 64.
Another woman who was shot–73-year-old Hattie Stretz–remains in critical condition at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
“She (Stretz) was at the salon that afternoon getting her hair done by her daughter, Laura Elody, who was murdered,” Rackauckas said at a news conference, his voice cracking with emotion.
“This was a senseless murder spree where nine people were mowed down by a lone gunman, and while Dekraai rampaged through a hair salon shooting at innocent victims, the son that he professed to love was sitting in the principal’s office waiting for his mom or dad to pick him up.
“That little boy is a victim,” he said. “And he has to grow up knowing that his dad is a mass-murderer. So, what kind of sick, twisted fatherly love might that be?
“In most special-circumstance cases, I convene a committee to review the facts, to go over the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. … But there are some cases that are so depraved and so callous and so malignant that there’s only one punishment that might have any chance of fitting the crime.
And the committee process just is not necessary here. When a person in such a case as this goes on a rampage and kills innocent people in an indiscriminate bloody massacre, I will of course seek the death penalty.”
Rackauckas said about 20 people were in the salon when Dekraai entered.
The district attorney said Dekraai first shot his ex-wife, who was in the front of the salon, then continued firing into the business. When he walked out, he shot Caouette, who was sitting in his Land Rover in the parking lot of the retail center.
Dekraai, who turns 42 on Monday, was arrested shortly after the shooting about a half-mile from the salon. A Seal Beach police officer saw him driving away from the scene in a white pickup truck and pulled him over. Three weapons were discovered in the vehicle, police said.
Dekraai legally obtained and possessed the three guns he had on him when he was arrested, said Seal Beach police Capt. Tim Olson, the acting police chief.
Dekraai and his ex-wife were in a Santa Ana courtroom the day before the shooting for a hearing involving custody of their 8-year-old son, Dominic.
Dekraai had been seeking sole custody of his son, but a court-ordered report recommended against it.
The hearing was uneventful because the report from a psychiatric expert was not provided to the attorneys 10 days in advance, as required, Fournier’s attorney, John Cate Jr., said.
“There was never any indication (of the shooting spree). That’s one of the mind-boggling things about this,” Cate told City News Service. “There was no knock-down, drag-out or taking of testimony. In retrospect, and this is almost macabre, but (Dekraai’s attorney Richard Sullivan) and I, who have known each other for years, passed pleasantries between us that day.”
Court records paint a picture of a man who appeared to be increasingly troubled in recent years.
Dekraai had to move out of the home of his stepfather, LeRoy J. Hinmon, in 2007 after the man complained that Dekraai attacked him. But the stepfather did not follow through with making the temporary restraining order permanent, Rackauckas said. He was also accused of attacking his stepfather in front of his son, who was 4 years old at the time, and was supposed to complete a 52-week batterer intervention program.
In 2007, Dekraai filed court documents complaining of “harassing and threatening” phone calls from his ex-wife, according to court records cited by the Los Angeles Times.
A Dec. 1, 2008, court order, a copy of which was obtained by City News Service, limited phone conversations between Dekraai and his ex-wife to once a week for 10 minutes, and only on the topic of their child. There was an exception for emergencies.
Fournier was prohibited from drinking alcohol while she had custody of the boy and the day prior to picking him up, according to the court records.
But Cate called Dekraai’s allegations about his ex-wife’s drinking “bogus.”
“She wasn’t a fall-down drunk,” Cate said, adding a chemical test in August checking for medical issues related to drinking “came back clean.”
Dekraai’s former attorney, Don Eisenberg, told CNS that the two had a “typical” divorce, which was finalized on Dec. 28, 2007.
“This was not a remarkable case. It was a stipulated judgment and the parties agreed on these details,” Eisenberg said.
Under the shared custody agreement, Dekraai had the boy each week from Thursday through the weekend, and the mother had him Monday through Wednesday, the attorney said.
“It was almost an exactly equal split,” Eisenberg said. “The reason for that, I believe, was she worked as a hairdresser on weekends and those were her busy times, and it was based on their availability. There’s nothing in (Eisenberg’s) file that indicates this was a problem divorce.”
The psychological report ordered by the court recommended keeping the child custody arrangement and rejected Dekraai’s requests to have Dominic transfer to a school closer to Dekraai’s home and away from his ex-wife’s work, Cate said. Dekraai also wanted to make all of the decisions about the child’s schooling and health, Cate added.
“He basically said Mom doesn’t give a damn about the kid, let me make the decisions myself,” Cate said. “He probably spent $70,000 to $80,000 to pursue this.”
The psychiatric expert recommended joint counseling for the two so they could improve their communication “and become effective co-parents instead of parallel parents,” Cate said.
The two had major problems communicating, according to the attorney.
“From the moment I met her in June of last year she told me, and this was well after they were divorced, that she was abused on numerous occasions throughout the marriage but she never reported it,” Cate said. “She would tell friends, but she wouldn’t call the police and would not make out the reports.”
The chief reason was Fournier feared Dekraai, and that apprehension continued even after their split, Cate said.
“Even afterward she was still afraid,” he said.
By Paul Anderson | City News Service