For the first time since the murder trial of Randy Steven Kraft began in July, the judge Tuesday heard testimony from witnesses during a closed-door hearing and ordered attorneys in the case not to discuss the meeting.
The meeting was held on the record, with a court reporter present, but Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin ordered the record and the clerk’s minutes sealed from public view.
Jurors had been dismissed at the end of court Monday and told not to return until Wednesday.
Lawyers in the case declined to comment on what took place Tuesday, citing the judge’s order. Nor would they say what impact the subject of the in-chambers hearing might have on the trial.
Kraft, 43, a Long Beach computer consultant, is on trial in Santa Ana charged with murdering 16 young men. Prosecutors have told the court that if he is convicted, they may introduce up to 29 other murders in seeking a death sentence.
Kraft was present for the closed-door hearing, along with one of his attorneys, C. Thomas McDonald. Others present were Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown, the judge and some members of his staff.
McCartin would only say in the open courtroom that the Kraft trial will be in session today. Defense attorneys had wanted the judge to postpone the trial until next Monday. But the judge said arrangements had been made so that further postponement was unnecessary.
The closed-door meeting was highly unusual for McCartin, who was the first judge in the Kraft case to unseal records that had been closed to the public for more than five years. Defense attorneys had wanted to leave sealed a list found in Kraft’s car that prosecutors have called a “death list,” or raft’s own score card of how many murders he had committed. But the judge ordered the list unsealed in September after the jurors had heard opening statements.
McCartin has held numerous hearings with witnesses outside the presence of the jury since the trial began. But those hearings have always been in open court where the public could view them. He has met in chambers with the attorneys several times, however.
Four witnesses, three women and a man, were led into the judge’s chambers one at a time Tuesday. It could not be determined whether they had been called by the defense, the prosecution, or the judge himself. However, after three of them testified, the district attorney’s top investigator on the Kraft case, Dan Disanto, thanked them for any inconvenience.
The district attorney’s office has a policy of generally opposing closed-door sessions. The public’s business should be conducted in public, Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi has stated.
But Capizzi said Tuesday that exceptions must sometimes be made.
“The Supreme Court has made it quite clear that in some situations it is appropriate to meet in chambers, and as long as it is evaluated on an individual basis, we have no quarrel with that,” Capizzi said.
The closed hearing came in the middle of the sixth week of the defense’s presentation of its case. The defense is not expected to conclude until the end of March.