The long-delayed trial of accused Night Stalker Richard Ramirez may be postponed for six months or longer as a result of an appellate court order requiring the prosecution to supply additional information to the defense.
In a writ of mandate issued Jan. 6, the Court of Appeal granted a defense request to obtain records of all crimes of a "similar nature" to the 13 murders with which Ramirez is charged that were committed in Los Angeles County six months before and during the so-called Night Stalker attacks in 1984 and 1985.
Co-defense counsel Daniel Hernandez said Tuesday that the information is necessary to cast doubt on the prosecution's theory that Ramirez is responsible for all 13 murders because they share a similar modus operandi. Ramirez is also charged with 30 other felonies.
"I think there's enough crimes out there that have similar appearances on the surface that you can put alongside the crimes my client was charged with and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference," Hernandez said.
The district attorney's office last week asked the appeals court to re-hear the matter, arguing that to gather this data would place an "onerous" burden on them and "could easily delay this trial for another six months or more" because 48 separate police agencies would have to be canvassed.
Even in those instances where the police agencies have access to computers, "the ultimate task of deciding if the case meets the criteria of 'similar . . . crime' or 'modus operandi' cannot be performed by a computer," prosecutors said in their petition for review. "This requires review by a knowledgeable person who will have to make a judgment as to each case."
The district attorney's office also accused the defense of again deliberately trying to delay the trial.
Jury selection was scheduled to begin Feb. 1 in Los Angeles Superior Court, 2 1/2 years after Ramirez's arrest. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald J. Kaplan of the appellate division said Tuesday "there is no way for it to get started" on time.
Kaplan said police would not be asked to begin compiling the homicide data until after the order is final. Prosecutors said they will take the issue to the state Supreme Court, if necessary.
Hernandez, however, said he doubts that the information is difficult to get. "I think they're using that as a smoke screen," he said.
The appellate court ruling was issued just as Judge Michael A. Tynan, who is presiding over the case, refused a defense request to postpone the trial for 60 days, saying that "competent counsel" could be ready for trial Feb. 1.
In another effort to accelerate the pace of the proceedings, Tynan in November ordered the Sheriff's Department not to let Ramirez be transported outside the county without the judge's written consent.