SANTA ANA (CNS) - Scott Dekraai, who is charged with the worst mass  killing in Orange County history, pleaded guilty today in a Santa Ana courtroom  to eight counts of murder.

But this is not a plea bargain; Dekraai's fate will still rest in the  hands of a jury that will decide at a later time if he should be put to death  or spend the rest of his life in prison for the massacre at the Salon Meritage  in Seal Beach on Oct. 12, 2011.

Dekraai, 44, announced Monday that he wished to enter a guilty plea  instead of going through a trial, which was scheduled for June. The plea clears  the way for his defense attorneys to continue their focus on an evidentiary  hearing alleging widespread governmental misconduct in the case of Dekraai and  multiple other defendants in the way investigators collected evidence with help  from jailhouse snitches.

Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender's  Office, said his client wanted to spare the victims' families from enduring a  trial.

Dekraai told investigators after his arrest that he and his ex-wife, 48- year-old Michelle Fournier, had been in court less than a week before the  shooting in an ongoing child custody dispute, according to police records.  Fournier's attorney said it was an uneventful hearing.

The two shared custody of the boy, but Dekraai wanted to make all of the  decisions about his son's schooling and health, Fournier's attorney, John  Cate Jr., said after the shootings.

On the morning of the shooting, the two got into an argument over the  phone about the dispute, prompting Dekraai to arm himself with three handguns  and ammunition and put on a bulletproof vest, according to police records.

Dekraai did not go directly to the beauty salon where his ex-wife  worked. Instead, he stopped at Bolsa Chica State Beach where he ``pondered''  killing his ex-wife, according to police.

When Dekraai made up his mind, he drove to the Salon Meritage and shot  Fournier first before turning his aim to multiple others in the shop, including  one of Fournier's friends, who had testified against him in the court battle,  according to police.

One witness testified before a grand jury that Dekraai calmly left the  Salon Meritage after the shootings.

'`He had zero expression on his face,'' witness Kenneth Caleb told the  grand jury, adding Dekraai walked in a ``casual calm stroll, as if you were  just enjoying the park.''

Dekraai fatally shot seven in the salon and then David Caouette, 64, in  his Land Rover parked outside the salon.

Among the dead were the salon's owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria  Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; Laura Lee Webb Elody, 46, and Christy Wilson, 47. Hattie Stretz, 75, survived her  injuries.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals is considering three
defense motions in the ongoing evidentiary hearing that started in March: one alleging that Dekraai's rights were violated in the way a jailhouse informant collected evidence against him, another requesting that the death penalty be removed as a possible sentence for Dekraai and the third is a request to recuse the District Attorney's Office from the case.

Dekraai was indicted in January 2012 on eight counts of murder with  special circumstances for committing multiple murders as well as a count of  attempted murder.