Randy Steven Kraft, a soft-spoken computer consultant depicted by prosecutors as perhaps the worst serial killer in U.S. history, was convicted Friday of murdering 16 young men in Orange County between 1972 and 1983.
Authorities believe that Kraft has killed more than 40 men in California, Oregon and Michigan, in most cases picking up young hitchhikers, disabling them with drugs or alcohol, sexually mutilating their bodies and dumping them along freeways.
Kraft, 44, dressed in a brown tweed jacket, blue jeans and tennis shoes, appeared stunned when the court clerk read the first “guilty” verdict. It was for Edward Daniel Moore, the first of the 16 victims, killed in 1972. Kraft’s lawyers had considered Moore and some of the earlier victims their only real chance for acquittals.
Relatives of victims broke into tears as they heard the verdicts. Judy Nelson of Westminster, whose 18-year-old son Geoffrey Alan Nelson was killed in 1983, hugged her daughter and sister tightly and they all burst into tears when the clerk reached her son’s name.
“I know he’s guilty. He knows he’s guilty,” said Nelson, who said she hopes that Kraft gets the death penalty. “Every mother in there had 16 beautiful sons, and that guy destroyed them. . . . He should pay something.”
Two of Kraft’s sisters and a niece sat in disbelief in the back of the courtroom.
“I’m shocked,” said Kay Plunkett, a school teacher who testified for her brother. “It’s a long way from being resolved.”
Judge Donald A. McCartin asked lawyers in the case to return on Tuesday to set a date to begin the penalty phase of the trial. During that phase, prosecutors will introduce evidence involving some of the other 29 murders they have linked to Kraft, including six in Oregon and two in Michigan.
Prosecutors will ask for a death verdict. The jurors’ only alternative will be to recommend life in prison without parole.
Kraft’s attorney, C. Thomas McDonald, said after the verdicts were read that Kraft’s private reaction was “utter disappointment, of course.”
Dead Marine in Car
The verdicts came six years to the week after Kraft was arrested on 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.
“Excellent verdicts,” said Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. James G. Enright, who was in the courtroom. Enright said he had no regrets that his office decided to try Kraft on 16 murders, which brought strong criticism from others in Orange County’s legal profession who thought it would result in unnecessary time and expense.
“We did the right thing. How could you leave any of them out?” Enright asked.
The 10 women and 2 men on the jury, who remained sequestered during their 11 days of deliberations, found Kraft guilty of 16 counts of first-degree murder, plus one count of mayhem and another count of sodomy. The only “not guilty” verdict was on a single sodomy charge.
The jury’s decision Friday brought to a close the first phase of a gruesome, 9-month-long trial in Santa Ana that subjected the jury to day upon day of pictures and evidence about 16 bruised and battered young men. Courtroom proceedings centered on the jargon and details of human pathology, of Kraft’s meanderings in the world of Southern California’s gay bars and of his driving--impulsive, nighttime excursions up and down the freeways.
“I like to drink and drive,” Kraft told Long Beach police in 1975, saying he “really got into one of my driving fits” on the night he was last seen with one of his alleged victims.
Described as a quiet, well-liked businessman who enjoyed walking his dog, Kraft, by some accounts, lived a normal existence in a small Long Beach bungalow he shared with another man.
Kraft, 44, who did not testify at his trial, has denied killing anyone.
“I don’t belong here,” he said in an interview with The Times from the Orange County Jail a few months after his arrest on May 14, 1983.
Legal experts said that the massive effort put together by Kraft’s three lawyers to defend him against so many murders is likely to make the Kraft case the most expensive criminal proceeding in the state’s history. Several legal experts familiar with the case have estimated the cost at a minimum of $10 million.