Kraft Case Puts Both Sides in Odd Territory

Times Staff Writer

Should Randy Steven Kraft, already charged with 16 murders in Orange County, actually be charged with 21 other murders here?

At a hearing this Friday, Kraft’s own attorneys may end up arguing for an increase in Kraft’s murder charges. And the lawyers opposing the move will be from the Orange County district attorney’s office.

If this seems a switch in the usual posture of prosecutors and defense lawyers, a lot of things in the Kraft case are out of the ordinary.

Kraft, now 42, a Long Beach computer consultant, was arrested May 14, 1983, after California Highway Patrol officers in a routine traffic stop found a dead Marine in his car. He since has been accused of more murders--the victims all young men, most between 18 and 25 years old--than anyone in California history.

Trial Postponed

Kraft’s trial has been postponed nearly a dozen times in the last five years, usually because his lawyers have asked for more time to prepare. But the latest postponement is the result of emergency surgery for Superior Court Judge James K. Turner, who is scheduled as the trial judge.


Friday’s hearing will be the first pretrial hearing in the Kraft case before a new judge, Donald A. McCartin. Kraft’s murder trial is not expected to begin until at least mid-June.

While Kraft is charged with 16 counts of murder, prosecutors have accused him of committing 21 other murders, with which he has not been charged but which they hope to use in the Superior Court case to win conviction and a death sentence. Those 21 include six in Oregon, two in Michigan, and seven elsewhere in Southern California. The remaining six murders are Orange County cases.

Kraft attorneys want to bar prosecutors from introducing information about five of those six uncharged Orange County murders in the Superior Court trial. The reasons get a little complicated.

5 Killings Added to Case

Those five Orange County murders were added to the Kraft case after his preliminary hearing in 1983 in Municipal Court.

“Randy deserves a preliminary hearing on those murders,” said William J. Kopeny, one of his attorneys. “He has the right to have a (Municipal Court) magistrate determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold him to answer for those murders in front of a jury.”

So Kraft’s attorneys will ask Judge McCartin on Friday to give prosecutors two choices: Either drop those five uncharged murders from the case or charge him with those additional cases, adding them to the list of 16 charged murders. That automatically would force a new preliminary hearing in Municipal Court on those five. If that happens, it would almost certainly mean a further delay in the actual murder trial in Superior Court.

It is unfair, Kraft attorneys say, for prosecutors to dangle those murder cases before a jury when it is possible that a Municipal Court judge would have dismissed them from the case.

Prosecutors have some uncharitable comments to make about the defense argument.

Asking Court to Create Law

“Kopeny thinks it’s unfair, but what he is asking the court to do is just create new law to support his argument,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. James P. Cloninger, who is handling most of the pretrial work in the Kraft case.

The six Orange County murders in which Kraft is suspected but has not been charged are: the 1971 murder of Wayne Dukette, 30; the 1974 killings of Roger Dickerson, 18, Gary Cordova, 23, and James D. Reeves, 19; the 1975 slaying of John W. Leras, 17, and the 1979 killing of Jeffrey Bryan Sayre, 15. Sayre’s murder is not included in the pending Kraft motion. His body has never been found.

Prosecutors say they have added the 21 uncharged murders to the case for two reasons: In the guilt phase, they want to use some or all of those murders to show a common pattern by Kraft as evidence to help convict him on the 16 murders with which he has been charged. In the penalty phase, they want to use them to show that someone who committed that many murders should be given the death sentence.

“There’s no question that the prosecution has over-filed this case,” said Kraft attorney Kopeny. “I don’t know why they did it, but if they want this many murders in the case, then they should give Randy his constitutional right to try to weed out those with insufficient evidence before they reach a jury.”

Same Standards

A state Supreme Court ruling has prohibited jurors from considering uncharged murders in a case at either the guilt or penalty phases unless the prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed those murders--the same standard required for charged murders.

So why didn’t the Orange County district attorney’s office charge Kraft with the six other murders in its jurisdiction?

“After Kraft’s arrest, the evidence of murders just kept mounting up,” said prosecutor Bryan F. Brown. “We kept adding and adding charges. Finally, you reach a point where you have to draw the line and say, ‘We’ve got to begin a preliminary hearing.’ ”

The other six murders were still under investigation when the hearing began, Brown said. He did not add them to the charges later because he did not want to delay the trial by having a second preliminary hearing.