THE KRAFT VERDICT : For Mother of Victim: A Personal Trial

Times Staff Writer

She sat in the courtroom at the Randy Steven Kraft trial, always in the same seat three rows back, small, quiet, the pain of hearing the proceedings etched on her face.

On some days for Shirley DeVaul, the pain overflowed in tears.

It happened the day Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown showed jurors, in wide-screen, gruesome color, pictures of her son’s body, which was found part way down a cliff in the Angeles National Forest. There also were pictures found at Kraft’s house, portraying her son in death, his wrists bound and a wide strangulation mark on his neck.

Brown had warned her the pictures would be devastating. But red-faced from crying, she sat through it all.


“It is some kind of drive within me” that forces her to attend, she said one day outside the courtroom. “I just have to be here, in case there is any glimmer of information that might come out to show something about our son’s death.”

Shirley and Rodger DeVaul of Westminster are the parents of Rodger James DeVaul Jr., a 20-year-old from Buena Park whose body was found on Feb. 13, 1983. He is among the 16 victims Kraft was convicted of killing after 9 months of trial.

There was a time when Shirley DeVaul and her husband wondered if she would have the emotional stamina to attend at all. But she turned out to be a mainstay for others who counted on her.

DeVaul is the only parent of the victims linked to Kraft who attended the trial daily once testimony began in September. Only once--on a Monday in January--was DeVaul absent. That weekend had been her son’s birthday.

“I just couldn’t come into the courtroom that day,” she said later. “That one day it was just too much.”

For DeVaul, the Kraft case began 3 months before Kraft’s May 14, 1983, arrest already a difficult time for her household.

DeVaul had moved out on Thursday, Feb. 10, after marital difficulties with her husband. She well remembers her son hugging her and telling her that he loved her. She did not expect to see him for several days; he had made plans with friends for a weekend ski trip.

On Sunday, Rodger James DeVaul Jr.--Roddie to his family --was found near Mt. Baldy. Because there was no identification on the body, nearly a week passed before his parents knew.

“I lost control; I couldn’t handle it,” DeVaul recalled. She suffered serious physical problems, and her anger at her then ex-husband increased. She “went into hiding” from the news media because she did not believe that reporters fairly represented what she was feeling.

Eventually, however, with psychiatric help, she regained her emotional balance.

But one good thing happened in her life. Her ex-husband began courting her. He was persistent, she says, smiling. They began to face their son’s death, and the upcoming trial, together.

In February, 1988, with the trial still pending, they remarried in Las Vegas.

“He’s been my redeemer,” she said, hugging his arm.

Because Rodger had to work, they agreed that she would attend the trial for both of them.

“We know that Bryan (Brown) is doing a good job representing us; but we felt one of us had to be there to personally represent our son,” Rodger said.

The trial has been a struggle for the couple and their two grown daughters, Yvonne and Barbara. Rodger’s 86-year-old mother, Eva, suffered a heart attack during the trial. Yet she left her hospital bed to be in court when Rodger testified.

One of the hardest days came when the defense announced that Kraft would not testify. The DeVauls feared that it would mean never hearing anything more about their son’s death.

An added difficulty for the DeVauls is that many friends, good friends who cared about them, are no longer around.

“They just didn’t know how to relate to us,” Rodger explained. “It’s hard to explain to them that we just can’t turn this case off on weekends.”

Shirley DeVaul added: “We don’t want their sympathy, just their understanding.”

She has kept busy helping family members of other victims--some who won’t attend the trial until its next and final penalty phase--by keeping them informed about how the trial is progressing.

“I feel close to all 16 of those boys (in the Kraft charges),” she said. “I feel like they are all my sons.”

She also has prepared a small memorial to her son in a special room in their home: Pictures from his days in the Navy, his graduation class from boot camp. Some of his favorite poems. His kindergarten picture. The American flag from his military funeral, wrapped around the cartridges from the 21-gun salute. There is a letter from his Navy days telling her that he was doing fine. “Don’t mess with my room,” he wrote closing another letter.

DeVaul said she will not attend the final phase of the trial regularly. But she has promised the mothers of two of the victims that she will be there to help them through testimony related to their sons.

She also has suffered through hearing defense evidence that her son was a drug user.

“Roddie was no angel, but he was at a time in his life when he was finding out about the world,” she explained.

She wants to show there was another side to her son. Found in his personal effects after his death was a poem he had kept:

I’d like the memory of me

to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow

of smiles when life is done.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve

to dry before the sun

of happy memories that I leave

when life is done.