By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man accused of killing eight people at a California hair salon in October in the largest mass slaying in Orange County history pleaded innocent on Wednesday to murder charges.
Former tug boat mate Scott Evans Dekraai, 42, entered not guilty pleas in Orange County Superior Court to eight counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
The charges were handed down by a grand jury on Tuesday and announced by Orange County prosecutors, who have already said they would seek the death penalty against Dekraai.
A judge set a pretrial hearing in the case for January 27. Dekraai pleaded innocent in November to a criminal complaint filed days after the shooting.
Prosecutors say Dekraai was locked in a bitter child custody battle with his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, when he walked into Salon Meritage in Seal Beach carrying three guns and opened fire.
Killed were Fournier, 48, salon owner Randy Fannin, 62, and five other people. Prosecutors say Dekraai shot his victims at close range, several of them multiple times as they lay dying.
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.
After leaving the salon, prosecutors say, Dekraai shot dead 64-year-old David Caouette, who was sitting in his sport utility vehicle parked outside the salon.
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.
In obtaining an indictment against Dekraai, prosecutors can proceed straight to trial without presenting evidence against him at a lengthy preliminary hearing.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Bohan)