Priest's Testimony Results in Uproar at Kraft Trial

Times Staff Writer

A shouting match erupted at the Randy Steven Kraft murder trial Thursday among the lawyers and the judge when an Episcopal priest tried to lecture the jurors about the evils of the death penalty.

Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin admonished Kraft attorney C. Thomas McDonald that the details of an execution itself and an argument on capital punishment are not proper for jurors to consider.

In the courtroom without jurors present, McDonald told the judge that the priest's remarks were only preliminary to his testimony about why Kraft should not be executed.

The judge shot back: "If it's preliminary, that means it's OK? That's stupid. . . . It's hogwash."

"It's hogwash my foot," McDonald shouted.

"I'm telling you it's hogwash and you know it's hogwash," the judge yelled back. "You're bright enough to know what can come in and what can't. . . . Clearly the views of the Episcopal Church should not be before the jury."

Kraft, 44, was convicted by the jury two months ago in Santa Ana of the murders of 16 young men in Orange County. At his death penalty hearing, prosecutors have accused him of eight more murders--six in Oregon and two in Michigan. The jury must decide between a verdict of death or life without parole.

The Rev. Joe Morris Doss of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto interviewed Kraft and his family members about a month ago. Doss told jurors that Kraft should not be executed, primarily because "even if he has committed these atrocious crimes, we ought to give him a chance to grow spiritually . . . and to give him a chance to redeem himself."

Doss got into trouble with Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown and the judge when he began to talk about the death penalty itself. After the judge cut him off, Doss asked: "Your honor, may I just add one thing?"

"No, sir, you may not," McCartin answered. The judge later cautioned the priest not to volunteer information beyond the question asked, "and then you and I won't have any trouble."

Doss managed to say that he believes Kraft should be spared because an execution would be so hard on his family. But during the non-jury hearing, the judge said that is not a proper issue for jurors to hear.

That caused McDonald to erupt again.

"There was no objection (from Brown) at the time. This is the court now volunteering to assist the prosecution," McDonald said.

This time it was Brown who said "hogwash."

After his return to the stand, Doss--who heard this debate--asked Brown to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn't say the wrong thing again.

"I'm not sure I have enough eyes," Brown said, grinning.

Doss said he believes that Kraft cares about others and could serve in prison as a teacher.

Prosecutors, however, claim that Kraft may be the most prolific serial killer in the country. Although they have limited the trial to a total of 24 murders, they claim in court papers that Kraft has killed 45 young men over an 11-year period. Most were between 18 and 25 years old and were either sexually abused or mutilated.

Prosecutors contend that Kraft, a computer consultant from Long Beach, committed the murders in Oregon and Michigan when he was there on business.

One of the defense witnesses Thursday was Jean Geddes, who worked with Kraft in Oregon and thought highly of him. In fact, she said, she was attracted to him, unaware that he is gay.

"You've always heard about California girls. Well, the Oregon girls like to see a California boy once in a while," she said.

Geddes said that when she learned in 1983 that Randy Kraft was arrested as a suspect in murders in California and Oregon, her first thought was: " 'Randy's sure going to have a tough time. He's got the same name as that guy picked up in California.' I did not associate my Randy with the name in the news."

The penalty phase of Kraft's trial will resume Monday morning.

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