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Kraft’s Car Called ‘Platform of Death’ in Final Arguments

Times Staff Writer

Randy Steven Kraft used his car, loaded with drugs and a cooler of beer, as a “rolling platform for death” as he roamed the freeways searching for victims, his prosecutor told jurors Monday.

By gaining their confidence, then breaking down their resistance through drugs, “Mr. Kraft was able to get control of people you would never suspect he could control,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown.

After 8 months of testimony from nearly 300 witnesses at Kraft’s Santa Ana trial, jurors finally heard the first of the closing arguments Monday. The lawyers are expected to argue the case until Thursday afternoon.

Kraft, now 44, a computer consultant who lived quietly in Long Beach’s gay community, is charged with 16 Orange County murders in what some legal experts say could be the most expensive criminal proceeding in California history. If he is convicted, Kraft’s trial would move into a death penalty hearing, where prosecutor Brown is expected to introduce evidence on a majority of 29 other murders he has accused Kraft of committing. Those include six in Oregon, two in Michigan, and the rest in Southern California.

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Judge to Sequester Jury

Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin has already told jurors that for their deliberations he will sequester them at a local hotel, a step rarely taken in modern court trials in California. Before closing arguments Monday, he told them he plans to permit them to deliberate on Saturdays--also rarely done.

Kraft, wearing a new gray suit, strode into the courtroom quickly Monday, carrying his usual heavy packet of legal papers, smiled and nodded at one of his sisters, Doris Lane, sitting in the front row.

“Thattaboy, they finally got him some decent clothes,” she said after smiling back at him.

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But there were no other Kraft supporters in the courtroom except for members of his defense team. Most of the others were members of victims’ families, lawyers or law students or other college students who had followed the case since Kraft’s arrest nearly 6 years ago.

Kraft was arrested May 14, 1983, when two California Highway Patrol officers found a dead Marine--25-year-old Terry Lee Gambrel--in the front passenger seat of Kraft’s car after they stopped Kraft for a traffic violation.

Gambrel had been strangled, and marks on his wrists showed he had been bound. One of his shoelaces, tied into a loop, was found in the back seat. His belt, which prosecutors say was used to strangle him, was also in the back seat.

Gambrel was barefoot and his pants had been pulled down. Drugs were found throughout the car, and a cooler of beer was in the back seat. The officers also discovered that the buttons of Kraft’s jeans were undone.

Brown told jurors that there was such a plethora of evidence found at the time of Kraft’s arrest “you can almost put yourself in that car watching these things happen (to Gambrel).”

Gambrel was taller and heavier than Kraft. But after Kraft has drugged his victims, Brown said, “it’s all over.”

“After that, it’s whatever Mr. Kraft wants to do with you,” he said.

Kraft attorney C. Thomas McDonald, who objected eight times during Brown’s argument Monday, also became upset when Brown argued that pictures of victims found in Kraft’s possession “are worth their weight in gold.”

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Two of the victims in the charges are Geoffrey Alan Nelson, 18, and Rodger James DeVaul Jr., 20, last seen walking together near Cypress College on Feb. 12, 1983. Nelson was found at 5:20 that same morning, dumped along the Euclid Street on-ramp to the Garden Grove Freeway in Garden Grove. DeVaul was found the next day in a remote area north of Claremont in Angeles National Forest.

Jurors have seen several pictures of DeVaul that were found at Kraft’s house--some with a strangulation mark on his neck and one showing him with his wrist tied with a shoelace.

Brown has so far gone into detail on only six of the 16 murders. But he touched on the rest through the handwritten list found in Kraft’s car, which prosecutors claim is a death list.

The defense has claimed that the list is meaningless. But Kraft’s attorneys recognize its value as evidence. At least three times the defense has made lengthy arguments to the court in attempting to keep the list out of the trial.

Brown is scheduled to complete his closing argument this morning. After Monday’s court session, Kraft attorney McDonald said there were no surprises from Brown.

“He used the same gloss, the same broad-stroke speculation he has used throughout this trial,” McDonald said.


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