Scott Dekraai entered his plea to eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in Orange County Superior Court. There was no plea deal, and he still faces the death penalty when he is sentenced.
In court, Judge Thomas M. Goethals told Dekraai, "After today, you will not be an alleged killer anymore. You're going to be a convicted murderer."
"It's very clear your honor," Dekraai responded.
The tragic attack occurred on October 12, 2011, and is considered the worst mass shooting in Orange County history. People in the tight-knit community of Seal Beach are still struggling to cope following the incident.
Dekraai's attorney said his client wanted to plead guilty to spare his victims' relatives from going through a trial.
Dekraai opened fire at Salon Meritage in the 500 block of Pacific Coast Highway, killing the salon's owner, his ex-wife Michelle Fournier and five other people. Police say Fournier, an employee at the salon, was the intended target. Dekraai and Fournier were allegedly involved in a bitter custody battle over their 8-year-old son.
After the shooting inside the salon, police say Dekraai walked out and shot a man sitting in a car in the parking lot before fleeing in his white pick-up truck. He was later arrested by police about a half-mile from the scene.
"I know what I did," he told an arresting officer, according to a police affidavit.
The now 44-year-old reportedly put on a bulletproof vest and armed himself with three firearms and ammunition. He stopped at Bolsa Chica State Beach and pondered killing his ex-wife before heading toward the salon.
Dekraai's public defender wants a judge to take the death penalty off the table as a possible sentence on the grounds that prosecutors allegedly misused jailhouse informants and did not turn over evidence to defense attorneys. Prosecutors deny wrongdoing and say they will continue to seek the death penalty for Dekraai.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas called the suspect's actions cruel, merciless and methodical because he had stopped to reload his weapon before continuing to gun people down.
The seven fatal victims from inside the salon include: Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, Laguna Beach, salon employee; Laura Lee Elody, 46, Huntington Beach, salon employee; Randy Lee Fannin, 62, Murrieta, salon owner; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47, Seal Beach, salon client; Michelle Marie Fournier, 48, Los Alamitos, salon employee and wife; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65, Huntington Beach, salon client; and Christy Lynn Wilson, 47, Lakewood, salon employee.
The victim fatally shot inside his car was identified as David Caouette, 64, Seal Beach.
Victim Harriet Stretz, then-73, Los Alamitos, was critically injured but survived her injuries.
The victims' family members say they're relieved this part of the case is over. They, however, don't believe Dekraai changed his plea to spare them from having to go through a trial.
"This is not a compassionate guy, I don't buy any compassion in this decision that he's made," said Wilson's husband, Paul. "I'm sure we'll find out that this is just an avenue to something down the road. This is not a compassionate man or I wouldn't be standing here today."
Dekraai's sentencing date will be determined pending completion of ongoing hearings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.