By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man accused of killing eight people during a shooting spree at a Southern California hair salon in October pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to murder and attempted murder charges.
Scott Evans Dekraai, 42, entered his plea during a brief appearance in Orange County Superior Court at which a judge also set a preliminary hearing for April in the high-profile case.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Dekraai, who is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
The former tug boat mate is accused of opening fire at the Salon Meritage in the coastal community of Seal Beach last month, killing his former wife and seven other people and critically injuring a 73-year-old woman.
Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders told Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh that he may seek a postponement of the preliminary hearing if he can't adequately prepare in time for the complicated death penalty case.
A judge will determine following that hearing if Dekraai should be bound over for trial.
"We will be ready. We want the case to proceed as quickly as possible so that these families can get justice and some closure to their pain," Orange County District Attorney's spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder said.
At the start of the hearing Larsh rejected a request by the defense to bar cameras from the courtroom. Sanders had argued that allowing televised coverage of the proceedings could hurt Dekraai's chances at a getting a fair trial.
Prosecutors say Dekraai was seeking revenge against ex-wife Michelle Fournier in a bitter custody dispute over their 8-year-old son when he walked into Salon Meritage carrying three handguns and opened fire.
Killed were Fournier, 48, salon owner Randy Fannin, 62, and six other people.
Harriet Stretz, 73, who was in a chair having her hair styled by her daughter, Laura Lee Elody, at the time of the shooting, survived her wounds. Elody, 46, was among the dead.
Dekraai was arrested just blocks from the bloody scene in Seal Beach, a bucolic beachside community about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles that had experienced only four homicides in the past decade.
(Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)