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Reporter’s Notebook : Kraft’s List: Forced-to-Fit Evidence or Death Diary?

Times Staff Writer

It’s just a sheet of paper, the yellow faded almost to white after six years.

It has 61 entries, divided into two columns of tiny, almost perfectly lettered, printed words. Some sort of code, anyone would say at first glance.

It was found in a notebook in the trunk of Randy Steven Kraft’s car on the morning of May 14, 1983, when he was arrested with a dead Marine in the front passenger seat. Prosecutors say it is Kraft’s death list.

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“It is the most explosive piece of evidence ever introduced in an Orange County courtroom,” said one defense lawyer who has followed the Kraft case.

Kraft, 44, a computer genius according to his various supervisors, was convicted last month in Orange County Superior Court of all 16 murders he was accused of committing.

While the evidence in most of the counts appeared substantial, lawyers on both sides agree it was the list that sealed Kraft’s fate with jurors.

Kraft attorney William J. Kopeny, a champion debater who has undoubtedly spent many fitful nights dreaming about that list, argues vehemently that the world is looking at it the wrong way.

Because police say it is a “death list,” Kopeny contends, everyone is eager to make the pieces fit. “New Year’s Eve” on the list could be anything, Kopeny says, but because everyone is looking for dead bodies to match with the list, Kraft ends up charged with killing Mark Howard Hall, a 20-year-old Santa Ana man last seen at a 1985 New Year’s Eve party.

The same for “Hike Out LB Boots.” Kopeny complains that prosecutors tried hard to convince jurors that 23-year-old murder victim Keith Arthur Klingbeil’s brown boots were for hiking so as to “force” Klingbeil onto the list.

But Kopeny, widely admired by colleagues, isn’t likely to make many

converts on this one. The public is convinced it is a death list.

“Stable” might mean something besides the death of 30-year-old Wayne J. Dukette, who worked at the “Stables” bar. But Dukette was killed in 1971 and is the earliest of the victims, and “Stable” is the very first entry. “EDM” is near the top, too. Edward Daniel Moore, 20, was found in 1972 and is considered Kraft’s second victim.

Prosecutors argue that one can almost see Kraft’s mind at work, attempting at first to list the deaths in chronological order.

Other factors are damning too.

Six young men were killed along Interstate 5 south of Portland, Ore., between 1980 and 1982. Not seven, not five. There were six. Loads of their gear were found at Kraft’s house or in his possession.

And there it is on the list: Six entries, all together, which begin with the word Portland. The entries “Portland Hawaii” and “Portland Denver” are the most compelling. One victim was found with “Hawaii” in large letters on his shirt. Another Oregon victim was from a suburb of Denver, Colo.

Kraft has maintained that the entries are a coded list of his friends and roommates made at the time for a party. But which guest was “Portland Blood”?

The clincher would seem to be “GR2"--two victims killed in Grand Rapids, Mich. That entry follows right after the “Portland” ones.

The Oregon and Michigan entries were shown to jurors for the first time last week at Kraft’s death penalty hearing. That makes a total of 20 entries they have seen, less than one-third of the list.

Many entries on the list that jurors won’t see may remain a puzzle forever.

Who, for example, are “Iowa” and “England”? The final list entry is “What You Got.” And why is that one so out of character from the other entries?

If it is a death list, how many people did Randy Kraft kill? Five of the entries would be doubles. Two victims he is accused of killing are not even on the list. How many others did he forget?

Only one person knows what each entry means. The question is, will he will ever tell?


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