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THE KRAFT VERDICT : Five Long Years: Profiles of the Key Courtroom Figures in Kraft Trial

Times Staff Writer

For some of the key figures in the Randy Steven Kraft trial, the case has dominated their professional and personal lives for more than 5 years.

“I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking about the case,” said Kraft attorney C. Thomas McDonald.

Here is a look at some of the people most involved in the case:

THE JUDGES

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Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin, 54. He has sent more men to Death Row (six to date) than any other judge in Orange County.

McCartin is well known among both prosecutors and the defense bar for his impatience with slow trials. He is also known for showing a quick temper one minute and a quick quip the next. McCartin sat through most of the Kraft trial in pain, wearing a brace because of a back injury. Still, when attorneys needed an extended recess and when jurors began deliberating, McCartin asked for other, short cases to hear.

Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas, 44. Cardenas, responsible for overseeing the defense team’s spending, remains one of the most controversial figures in the case.

Many in law enforcement have criticized the amount spent by the defense, which has not yet been made public. During closing arguments, for example, the defense lawyers staged a computer graphics presentation of moving color graphs and charts. Some officials say the defense could have saved taxpayer money by using cardboard instead.

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Cardenas’ most controversial ruling was his decision to seal all the defense expenses on the case, including the salaries of the three defense lawyers. But Cardenas said it was the only way to assure that jury selection did not occur in the midst of public debate over the trial’s costs.

THE PROSECUTION

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown, 47. A former California “prosecutor of the year,” Brown has succeeded in sending three other men to Death Row, including William G. Bonin, convicted of killing four young boys in Orange County, and 10 others in Los Angeles County.

Brown is a supervisor in the district attorney’s office. While he is highly rated by fellow prosecutors, some defense lawyers complain that Brown plays too much on his down-home, folksy image with jurors.

Brown entered the Kraft case just a few hours after Kraft’s arrest, when he was called at home to help prepare search warrants for Kraft’s house and car.

After the verdicts Friday, many were crediting Kraft’s convictions in all 16 murders to Brown’s courtroom skills.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas M. Goethals, 37. He has been assigned as the legal motions specialist on the Kraft case for only about a year. But Goethals shined during the trial, when he dramatically argued that if Kraft testified, the defense did not have the right to limit Brown’s cross-examination.

Sheriff’s Department investigator James A. Sidebotham, 53. Brown claims that Sidebotham was brilliant in his preparation of the three search warrants that produced most of the evidence against Kraft.

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Sidebotham set a record in the county for remaining on the witness stand for most of 5 months during the search warrant hearings. The defense challenged thousands of pieces of evidence.

On Friday, Sidebotham sat in the back of the courtroom and listened to the guilty verdicts for Kraft.

“We’ve only cleared the first hurdle,” he said.

THE DEFENSE

C. Thomas McDonald, 47. McDonald left the public defender’s office, where he was second-in-command, after the Board of Supervisors balked at allowing him to take a leave of absence to take the Kraft case. McDonald is known for his fiery courtroom demeanor. While many prosecutors dislike him intensely, he has many supporters among the defense bar.

“If Kraft tells you he didn’t kill anybody, then you need a lawyer like McDonald who will say OK, ‘that’s our position, now let’s go in there and kick some tail,’ ” said fellow defense attorney Mike Horan. “Anybody who criticizes McDonald for getting fired up about Kraft’s defense is crazy.”

James G. Merwin, 45. Although McDonald handled most of the trial, Merwin did much of the behind-the-scenes work, such as preparing the motion to sever the case into multiple trials, which the defense considered the most critical issue.

It was Merwin who brought McDonald into the case. The two are longtime friends who had worked in the public defender’s office together.

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Merwin impressed many courtroom observers with his closing arguments, in which he quoted Roman history, Abraham Lincoln, and his own mother. Merwin has been particularly sensitive to complaints about how much the Kraft defense was costing taxpayers.

“I regret taking this case every time I read that I’m stealing funds from the county,” he said.

William J. Kopeny, 38. Kopeny also left the public defender’s office to take the Kraft case. His specialty is legal motions, and Merwin and McDonald consider him the best at what he does. While he lost most of his motions, Kopeny won high praise from fellow defense lawyers for his work.

Kopeny, a strong opponent of the death penalty, contends that it was impossible for Kraft to receive a fair trial charged with so many counts.


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