Evidence in Other Deaths Sought for Kraft Trial
The Randy Steven Kraft murder trial, scheduled to begin Monday after four years of delays, will be postponed until at least Feb. 1, 1988, because of pretrial hearings in the case that have lasted more than three months so far.
But Orange County prosecutors, upset about most of the previous eight delays in the trial, are not objecting this time.
The pretrial hearings so far have revealed an incredible volume of evidence against Kraft, who is accused of 37 murders of young men between 1972 and 1983. The hearings will determine how much of that evidence Superior Court Judge James K. Turner is going to permit prosecutors to put before a jury.
“We’re like a squirrel that’s gathered a lot of nuts for the trial,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown, lead prosecutor in the case. “The defense is trying to see how many nuts it can take away from us before the trial starts.”
21 More Slayings
Kraft, now 42, is charged with 16 Orange County murders. But prosecutors have accused him of another 21 murders and want to present evidence about those killings at his trial. Most of the 37 victims were men between 18 and 25 years old, and most had been drugged and strangled.
Six of the 21 killings he has not been formally charged with committing occurred in Oregon, two were in Michigan, seven were in other California counties and the rest were in Orange County. The Orange County slayings in that group were added to the case after Kraft’s 1983 preliminary hearing had ended.
For the last three months, with the courtroom usually empty of spectators, Kraft’s lawyers have been challenging the legality of the police search of Kraft’s house and car after his arrest May 14, 1983. In the course of that challenge, several thousand items of evidence have been paraded before Judge Turner.
A key phase of the hearing ended Friday when Sgt. James A. Sidebotham of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department finally stepped down from the witness stand after 27 days of testimony.
Sidebotham, the chief investigator on the Kraft case, wore thin gloves during most of his testimony as he opened each of 200 packets containing evidence and described the contents for Kraft lawyer William J. Kopeny. The evidence was collected under Sidebotham’s direction.
The Kraft lawyers contend that Sidebotham overstepped the authority of his search warrant and lacked probable cause to gather certain evidence. The evidence in question includes photographs of several of the victims, nude and apparently dead, plus several pieces of clothing and other items belonging to victims.
While the hearing has been long and tedious, it has included disclosure of several key items of evidence against Kraft never made public before. The hearing also has disclosed a key element of the prosecution’s theory.
“I felt that Mr. Kraft kept souvenirs from his victims,” Sidebotham testified, explaining why he took so many items stored in Kraft’s garage during his search.
Sidebotham also disclosed that Kraft’s roommate at the time, Jeff Seelig, told investigators that “the stuff in the garage belonged to people that Randy had brought there.”
Among the items of evidence revealed for the first time in the course of Sidebotham’s testimony were:
- A Social Security card belonging to 21-year-old Mikeal Laine that was found in Kraft’s car. Laine, who had been missing since Nov. 1, 1982, was found dead Jan. 9, 1984, eight months after Kraft’s arrest.
- A sketch pad, found at Kraft’s house, belonging to Vincent Mestas, 24, who was found dead in San Bernardino County on Dec. 29, 1973.
- Magazines depicting homosexual acts and dominance over young men.
- A book called “The Essence of Drugs.” Prosecutors claim Kraft overpowered his victims after giving them drugs.
Sidebotham is expected to be recalled to the witness stand in about a week. But Monday, the search warrant hearing is scheduled to continue with testimony from investigators from Oregon and Michigan.
Kraft, a computer consultant when he was arrested, was an employee of Lear Siegler Inc. when the Oregon and Michigan slayings occurred, between 1980 and 1982.
In addition to the challenge to the legality of the search of Kraft’s house and car, defense attorneys plan to file a motion seeking 16 separate murder trials--one for each of the charged crimes.
They also plan motions seeking:
- Dismissal of the Orange County murders that Kraft has been accused of but not formally charged with. They say he is entitled to preliminary hearings on all of them.
- Dismissal of two of the 16 formal murder charges. One of these killings, defense attorneys say, occurred outside Orange County. And they say they were denied access to key information at Kraft’s preliminary hearing on the other.
Defense lawyers say that if the judge upholds the search of Kraft’s house and car, they will bring a separate motion attacking the admissibility of a key piece of evidence against Kraft--a list in his handwriting found in the trunk of his car.
It is a page of more than 60 notations that prosecutors claim is Kraft’s murder score card, listing his victims in coded references. Kraft’s lawyers claim it is meaningless and should not be admitted as evidence.
Deputy Dist. Atty. James P. Cloninger, another prosecutor in the case, called it “my one irreplaceable” piece of evidence during the search warrant hearing.