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Lawyer: Man will plead guilty to killing 8 in California salon shooting rampage in 2011

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A California man charged with shooting and killing his ex-wife and seven others at a hair salon has agreed to plead guilty, his defence attorney said Monday.

Scott Dekraai, 44, had been locked in a custody dispute with his ex-wife over their-8-year-old son before he strapped on a bulletproof vest, took three guns and entered Salon Meritage in 2011, police said.

He is accused of shooting his ex-wife, a hairdresser, before killing the Seal Beach salon's owner and six others.

Eight people were shot inside the salon, and all but one died. A man sitting in his car in the parking lot was also gunned down.

Minutes later, Dekraai was stopped by police and arrested.

He said "I know what I did," according to police.

Defence lawyer Scott Sanders told an Orange County court during a hearing Monday that his client, is willing to enter the plea although he faces a possible death sentence.

Dekraai, a former tugboat operator, had previously offered to plead guilty in exchange for multiple life sentences but prosecutors refused to drop the death penalty from consideration.

Dekraai's trial was scheduled to start June 9.

Although it appears Dekraai is getting no leniency in return for his plea, Lawrence Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Chapman University, said it's not unheard of for defence attorneys to make such a move.

Often, Rosenthal said, attorneys worry that jurors have lost faith in the defence team after they've issued a guilty verdict. Attorneys may also worry that jurors become irritated after they've sat through a trial, issued a verdict and then learn they have to sit through a penalty phase and issue another verdict.

By entering a guilty plea, Rosenthal said, Dekraai is taking a calculated risk that the jury may be go easier on him because he's owned up to his crimes.

"This is the kind of tactical judgment that defence lawyers make all the time," he said.

Dekraai, a former tugboat operator who lived in nearby Huntington Beach, had previously offered to plead guilty in exchange for multiple life sentences but prosecutors refused to drop the death penalty from consideration.

Dekraai's trial was scheduled to start June 9.

Sanders, an assistant public defender, still wants to have the death penalty tossed out and to have the district attorney's office recuse itself because of recordings made by a fellow inmate that prosecutors characterized as Dekraai bragging about the killings. The district attorney's office agreed last week to drop efforts to use the recordings in court proceedings.

The salon reopened about a year after the shootings that rocked the sleepy beach city. Six of the original employees, including the owner's widow, returned to work.

For more than two years, relatives of the victims have trekked to the Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana for hearings on the case.

Paul Caoette of Costa Mesa, whose father David was gunned down as he sat in his car outside the salon, welcomed the idea of a plea.

"I think he should admit his guilt," Caouette said. "Every single thing he has done is cowardly.

"We're a capital punishment state. If anybody deserves the death penalty, it's Dekraai."

___

Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this story.

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