When Louis Craine confessed last year to three murders linked to the Southside Slayer killings of prostitutes, it hardly seemed likely that things could get much gloomier for the unemployed construction worker with an IQ of 69.
But that was before his own parents and siblings began talking to police, providing information that could undermine the main thrust of Craine’s defense as he seeks to avoid the gas chamber. Their testimony as prosecution witnesses in his serial-murder trial is likely to figure prominently in jury deliberations, expected to begin today.
Craine has recanted his hours-long confession, taped by police after his 1988 arrest and played for the jury over the course of four days. Craine is charged with five murders and assorted sexual assaults that occurred from November, 1984, to May, 1987.
In a nearly empty Compton courtroom on Monday, Craine, 31, earnestly proclaimed his innocence, calling his family members “liars.”
Asked why his own family members would testify against him, Craine speculated that they were mad at him because he moved away from home as a teen-ager.
Their testimony linked him to a shirt that was stained with the blood of the same type as one of the murder victims. The shirt emerged as a key piece of physical evidence. Craine testified that he had never seen the beige, short-sleeved shirt.
In his summation, the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Watson, noted that Craine’s mother had testified that she saw him with the shirt on and bloodied. Craine himself blamed it on a bloody nose. The prosecutor also reminded jurors of forensics evidence that the blood on the shirt was not Craine’s type.
For all the publicity surrounding the serial murders of prostitutes in South-Central Los Angeles, including the February arrest of a sheriff’s deputy for three of the killings, Craine’s trial has been a decidedly low-key affair.
Most days, as when Craine took the witness stand, there have been no spectators in the courtroom. When Watson began his closing arguments on Tuesday morning, the only spectators were his teen-age son, wife and her mother.
Closing Arguments Concluded
No relatives of the victims were in attendance.
Watson concluded his closing arguments late Tuesday afternoon and Craine’s defense attorneys were to deliver their statements this morning.
Since trial began on March 27, the six-man, six-woman Superior Court jury has heard an unvarnished tale of illicit sex and drug use in abandoned houses on streets not far from the 12-story Compton Courthouse. The murder victims were, in Watson’s words, “slaves” to cocaine. The prosecutor contends that Craine strangled the five women, several of whom he also sexually assaulted.
Craine propped his elbows on his knees, leaning forward as the prosecutor cross-examined him. In a rapid-fire fashion, Watson time and again asked Craine if he had told police of killing the women.
“That’s true,” came the replies, “That’s right.” But Craine went on to renounce those confessions. “Yes, I did lie to them,” he said. “One thing led to another. . . . It was a big mistake.”
“You’re just an innocent man then?” Watson asked.
“That’s the way it is,” the suspect replied.
Craine’s attorneys, Morris B. Jones and Ronald V. Skyers, do not dispute Craine’s post-arrest statements. Rather, they contend that Craine confessed only after sustained police interrogation.
“He was unable to understand what he was saying,” Jones said.
Tendency to ‘Parrot’
They portrayed their client as an illiterate man with a fourth-grade education and a low IQ who is given to exaggeration and has a tendency to “parrot” the statements of others.
Craine, a short, slight man with a beard, explained his confession by saying: “That’s what he (a police interrogator) wanted to hear.”
Watson conceded that police investigators were “pretty aggressive” in questioning Craine, but said each officer had urged Craine to “tell the truth.”
The prosecutor contended that Craine’s statements contained information only the killer could have known.
For instance, the cause of death of one of the victims, Loretta Perry, had initially been listed as cocaine overdose. But after Craine spoke of having strangled Perry, the woman’s body was exhumed and a second autopsy confirmed strangulation as the cause of death, Watson said.
The other victims were Sheila Rae Burris, stabbed and strangled on Nov. 18, 1984; Gail M. Ficklin, found dead on Aug. 15, 1985; Vivian Louise Collins, found strangled in the 1600 block of East Century Boulevard on March 18, 1987, and Carolyn Barney, found in a vacant lot near Craine’s parents home in the 9700 block of South Grandee Avenue in May of 1987.
This is Craine’s second trial. The first ended in a mistrial on Aug. 5, after a three-week trial, when Court Clerk Denis Leeds inadvertently gave the jury an exhibit that had not been admitted as evidence.
The so-called Southside Slayer serial killings have claimed the lives of at least 18 women--primarily prostitutes in South-Central Los Angeles--from the fall of 1983 to May of 1987, although police now believe that the slayings were the unrelated work of more than one killer.
Besides Craine, three other men have been arrested in six other Southside Slayer killings. Daniel Lee Siebert, a convicted killer imprisoned in Alabama, was charged last year with two of the murders. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Ross was arrested earlier this year and charged with three prostitute killings. The third man, Charles Mosley, was convicted of the 1986 murder of a sixth woman.