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Death penalty sought in Seal Beach massacre

Updated 10:27 PM EST

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the man they called a "methodical and merciless killer" who stormed through a salon and killed eight people.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Friday that Scott Dekraai has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Rackauckas choked up several times during an emotional news conference while saying the rampage was triggered by a long-running custody dispute that Dekraai had with his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier. She was one of the people fatally wounded.

"In a selfish, cruel act of senseless violence, eight innocent people were murdered," Rackauckas said.

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He said Dekraai, 41, arrived at Salon Meritage in downtown Seal Beach on Wednesday carrying three weapons and dressed in body armor. At one point he stopped to reload before he continued killing people.

"For almost two minutes Dekraai shot victim after victim, executing people by shooting them in the head and chest," the district attorney said.

Rackauckas said the bloodbath was triggered by Dekraai's desire for revenge against his ex-wife, who he believed was interfering in the raising of their 8-year-old son.

"That little boy's a victim," the prosecutor said. "Now his mother has been murdered, 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?"

Dekraai appeared briefly in court Friday afternoon, where angry friends and relatives of the victims screamed insults. One person shouted, "I hate you."

Superior Court Judge Erick L. Larsh ordered a medical review after Dekraai's attorney said his client wasn't getting his needed antipsychotic medication while he is held in jail without bail. Attorney Robert Curtis also said he would likely request that the trial be moved out of the area.

Fournier had recently told friends and family and said in court documents that she feared for her safety as Dekraai became more and more unbalanced.

Dekraai and Fournier split up in 2006 and divorced the following year. The two had been involved in an increasingly acrimonious custody fight over their son ever since Dekraai had asked a judge for "final decision making authority" when it came to matters involving their son's education and his medical and psychological treatment.

Both parents were in court the day before the shootings for a custody hearing that was continued until December.

Fournier's attorney, John Cate, said a recent evaluation by a court-appointed psychologist concluded the couple's custody agreement, which gave each parent close to equal time with their son, should remain the way it was.

But Cate added that the report concluded neither parent was behaving as they should have.

"He found they were not co-parenting. In fact, they were parallel parenting and doing a poor job of it at that," Cate said of the psychologist's conclusions. "It led to a great deal of mistrust."

Despite the report, he said both Dekraai and Fournier were well mannered in court on Tuesday.

Cate also said one of the victims of the shooting, Christy Wilson, was a co-worker of Fournier's who spoke with the court-appointed psychologist. He speculated that might have led to Wilson being targeted by the gunman.

"She was a good friend of Michelle's and she paid the price for it, apparently," the lawyer said.

Throughout the custody battle, Dekraai and Fournier traded serious allegations, each calling the other an unfit parent.

Dekraai said in court papers that Fournier had a drinking problem, once showed up drunk at their son's Little League game and didn't keep a close watch on the boy.

Fournier responded in court papers that Dekraai was mentally unstable, had been violent and abusive to her when they were married and had once called 911 and threatened to kill himself and others.

Dekraai's stepfather, Leroy Hinmon, had gotten a temporary restraining order against him in 2007 after he said Dekraai attacked him. The order required Dekraai to surrender his guns, but it had long since expired.

Cate said Dekraai acknowledged to the court-appointed psychologist that he had been diagnosed as bipolar and was taking pain medication for a leg injury.

Dekraai suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from a 2007 tugboat accident that mangled his leg and left a colleague dead but his marriage to Fournier was falling apart even before that, and the court battle over their son was still raging Wednesday before the shooting.

Several hundred attended a prayer service at a church across from the salon on Thursday night and more than 1,500 showed up with candles at a vigil in the parking lot of the shopping center where the salon stands. About a half-dozen therapy dogs, wearing green vests embroidered with names like Anise and Riley, moved through the crowd providing comfort to mourners.

The quaint, sun-splashed town of Seal Beach, with its Main Street of vintage shops, restaurants and boutiques, has had only had one homicide in the previous four years.