Victims' Families Turn Out as Kraft Trial Finally Starts

Times Staff Writer

It has been almost 10 years since Ken Clifford identified his cousin, Michael Inderbieten, whose mutilated, partially burned body was found on a freeway on-ramp in Seal Beach.

On Monday, Clifford got his first look at the man accused of killing his cousin--and linked to the deaths of 44 other young men in Orange County and elsewhere.

"He looks totally sane, normal, whatever," said Clifford, 65, a retired Garden Grove School District administrator. "The villain isn't always the guy in the raincoat, I guess."

The alleged villain, in this case, is Randy Steven Kraft, and he wore blue jeans, white Reebok tennis shoes, a blue button-down shirt and a striped, dark-blue tie for the first day of what promises to be the longest, costliest and one of the most gruesome trials in California history.

And yet, for the horrific nature and sheer number of the crimes Randy Steven Kraft is charged with, the trial's first day was largely mundane.

"The district attorney of the County of Orange . . . hereby accuses Randy Steven Kraft of a felony; to wit . . . murder," intoned court clerk Gail Carpenter at 9:25 a.m., as she began reading the long list of charges against Kraft. For 15 minutes she droned on: 16 counts of murder, two of sodomy and one of emasculation.

"I don't come here everyday," whispered one courtroom-watcher to another, just as the proceedings were getting under way. "I only go when there's something worth seeing."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown stared straight ahead while the charges were being read, preparing himself for the opening statement in the biggest trial of his life. Defense attorney C. Thomas McDonald rocked back and forth in his wooden chair, while Kraft looked straight at court clerk Carpenter.

The 142-seat courtroom was about two-thirds full with relatives of victims, law students, veteran trial junkies and a phalanx of reporters, photographers and cameramen, which, during breaks, moved en masse outside in the hall from one victim's family to another for interviews.

In his two-hour opening statement to the jury, Brown was like a fatherly college professor walking his class through a course outline of the first day of the year. He painstakingly took the jurors through the essential details of each count--name, date, location where the body was found and in what condition--urging them to take notes and, if things should become too confusing down the road, to refer back to this "table of contents" he was laying out for them Monday.

McDonald provided the only real drama of the morning with his own opening statement. If Brown was the professor, then McDonald was the campus radical urging the students not to be misled by a smooth-talking member of the power structure.

"This is as cleverly constructed a prosecution as I've ever seen . . . designed to inflame you and color your thinking," McDonald said. "The prosecution in this case is based on speculation, suspicion and rhetoric. . . . It won't be able to establish in any way that my client had ever had contact with any of these people."

Later, when asked by reporters how the last statement would stand up considering that one of the victims, Terry Lee Gambrel, was in Kraft's car when he was arrested in Mission Viejo, McDonald explained that he had meant to say that there is no evidence that Kraft killed anyone, or that he had contact with most of them.

Rodger DeVaul, whose son, Rodger Jr., was killed in February, 1983, took issue with McDonald's assertion that there is no evidence that Kraft killed anyone.

"I don't believe him," said DeVaul, flanked by his wife and mother. "If they didn't have any evidence, it wouldn't have come this far."

DeVaul, who has attended many of the Kraft proceedings during the last 5 1/2 years, said that hearing Brown lay out the grisly details of his son's murder was a mixed blessing.

"It was the same as the day we got the phone call," DeVaul said. He will attend as much of the trial as he can, and other family members will try to make sure that Rodger Jr. is always represented in the courtroom, he said.

'We know it's going to be very emotional. But we want to see justice done."

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