SANTA ANA ( — Scott Dekraai, the man charged with the worst mass killing in Orange County’s history, pleaded guilty Friday to eight counts of murder.

Dekraai, a 44-year-old former tugboat operator from Huntington Beach, fatally shot his ex-wife and seven others at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach in 2011.

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“Two-and-half years later, to finally sit in the courtroom and hear him admit guilt, its reality again all over for me,” Paul Wilson, a victim’s husband, said.

Defense lawyer Scott Sanders told an Orange County court during a hearing Monday that his client would enter the plea to spare the victims’ families from enduring a trial.

The plea clears the way for his defense attorney to focus on an evidentiary hearing.

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Defense attorneys allege widespread governmental misconduct in how investigators collected evidence with the help of jailhouse snitches.

A jury will decide whether to sentence Dekraai to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole at a later date.

“Today’s been one of the best days I’ve been here. I think the only thing that could top is hearing the judge say he’s getting the death penalty, and I will be there,” Butch Fournier, the brother of a victim, said.

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Dekraai’s trial was scheduled to start June 9.