After eight postponements, Superior Court Judge James K. Turner refused Tuesday to grant a defense request for a further delay in the trial of Randy Kraft, who was arrested in 1983 and faces 16 murder charges.
Jury selection for the trial could begin in December if Turner's decision stands up. December is when Kraft's pretrial hearings are scheduled to end.
Kraft's attorneys had asked for a trial postponement of at least a year. But after a weeklong hearing, Turner said the defense had failed to show "good cause" for further delay.
Prosecutors, frustrated by delays already won by the defense, did not hide their elation Tuesday.
"Looks like we've finally turned the corner," Deputy Dist. Atty. James P. Cloninger said.
But Kraft's attorneys said they will almost certainly appeal Turner's decision to the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. The appellate court has already halted proceedings in the Kraft case once while attorneys settled an evidence dispute.
Kraft, 42, of Long Beach, is formally charged with 16 murders, but prosecutors have told the court that they also intend to introduce evidence showing that he committed 21 other slayings. The prosecutors have said they hope that this weight of evidence will show the jury a pattern and ensure a death sentence.
Six of the killings with which Kraft has not been charged took place in Oregon; two were in Michigan.
C. Thomas McDonald, attorney for Kraft, testified last week that the defense still has to prepare for 10 of the 37 accusations. He estimated that it would take nearly 13 months--at an average of 5 1/2 weeks for each of the 10 slayings--before the defense would be ready for trial.
Prosecutors' arguments were similar to those at previous trial postponement hearings: that Kraft's lawyers have not shown due diligence in preparing for trial.
After Turner ruled against the defense lawyers, McDonald and another Kraft attorney, William J. Kopeny, asked Turner to say specifically whether he was ruling that they had not used "due diligence." Turner refused, saying he was required to say only whether good cause for a postponement had been shown.
That irked Kraft's attorneys.
"We've been hearing the prosecutors talk about due diligence for so long that our client is beginning to wonder himself what his lawyers are doing," McDonald said.
Turner turned to Kraft and said he believes that Kraft has three of the best criminal defense lawyers in the county, if not the state.
Hearings on the pretrial motions in the Kraft case were scheduled to begin today. But Turner postponed them until Monday to give Kraft's lawyers time to decide whether to appeal Tuesday's decision.
McDonald said later that such an appeal was "a strong likelihood."
"We think we've shown we have been diligent in preparing this case," McDonald said.
Turner asked the defense attorneys why their investigation of the remaining 10 murders could not go on simultaneously with the pretrial motions and even during jury selection.
Then, if the defense attorneys were still not ready for trial, they could bring a new motion for a continuance, the judge said.
But Kraft's attorneys argued that they could not adequately prepare that way.
The defense is not required under law to specify which case among the 37 slayings is as yet unprepared.
Kraft's lawyers had tried to keep Turner from holding the last continuance hearing. Because Turner is the trial judge, they argued, the hearing should have been held before Judge Luis A. Cardenas, who has been assigned to privately monitor and approve defense spending.
Cardenas presided at the last two continuance hearings and granted postponements of at least six months both times.