Lawyers for Randy Steven Kraft unveiled a new segment of their defense Monday, asking the judge to let them present evidence to the jury on the difficulties of assessing guilt or innocence when so many charges are involved.
Kraft, 43, is on trial in Santa Ana, charged with 16 Orange County murders. His lawyers argued vigorously before the trial began that he could not receive a fair trial unless the charges were severed into at least “several” trials.
Now the defense wants to return to the witness stand Dr. Steven Penrod, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who specializes in studies of jury deliberations.
Impression on Jurors
Penrod testified at a pretrial hearing that he believed that unless the counts in the Kraft case were severed, jurors might be inclined to find Kraft guilty simply because the high number of counts made an impression on them.
At the hearing, Penrod testified: “The real problem arises where jurors are presented a case which, if tried by itself, would yield an acquittal, but when combined with other cases can yield a conviction as the result” of being tried with other counts.
Without commenting on Penrod’s theories, Judge Donald A. McCartin refused the defense request to break up the case into multiple trials.
Kraft attorney James G. Merwin wants the jurors to hear what Penrod has to say. “We want to raise the issue, so they will at least be aware of it during their deliberations,” Merwin said Monday.
Studies Based on Mock Juries
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown argued at the pretrial hearing that Penrod’s studies on the subject were based on mock juries: “Mr. Penrod’s situation fails because his mock jurors don’t have any sense of responsibility to a live defendant. . . . I cannot imagine a juror that would say, ‘OK, there are a number of charges here, and so we are going to avalanche Mr. Kraft and execute him because of the number of charges.’ That is just absolutely ridiculous.”
McCartin said he will review the defense’s documentation on the issue and announce a decision Wednesday.
While the Kraft attorneys took the judge’s delay as encouragement that he might let Penrod testify, they were quickly shot down by the judge on another request. They wanted the jurors to be taken to the remote area of Silverado Canyon where Mark Howard Hall’s body was found on Jan. 3, 1976.
Kraft’s attorneys said that because most of the other alleged victims of Kraft were dumped near freeway ramps or roadways, Hall’s death must have come at the hands of another killer.
They also maintained that Kraft is not big enough to have dragged Hall to the site, which is on a steep incline, and they wanted to demonstrate that to the jury at the scene.
But McCartin said such a trip “would just be a waste of time.”
Obviously Dissimilar Case
It was obvious, the judge said, that Hall’s death was dissimilar from the others.
Prosecutors contend that Hall is one of their strongest counts because Kraft’s fingerprints were found on a broken alcohol bottle just inches from the victim’s head. Also, Hall had been emasculated, as had several other victims.
The Kraft case has once again come to a temporary halt because of the defense attorneys’ problems in lining up witnesses. The jurors will not hear evidence today and are scheduled to return Wednesday. But McCartin has scheduled a hearing for today on the defense’s request to delay the trial to next Monday.