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The Consensus: Not the Man They Knew : Kraft Character Witnesses All Express Shock

Times Staff Writer

The character witnesses for Randy Steven Kraft the past two weeks have all given the same answer when asked their reaction to his arrest and to learning that he was linked to more than a dozen murders.

They were all shocked. They have all said that the Randy they knew could never have done anything like that. They said they have all repeatedly searched their souls and queried others to see if there had been any character flaws in Kraft that they should have seen. But, they have all said, there was nothing.

“I couldn’t believe it; I was sure it had to be somebody else,” said Liz Wierman, one of Kraft’s former co-workers.

Kraft, 44, a computer consultant from Long Beach, was convicted in Santa Ana two months ago of 16 Orange County murders. But prosecutors have accused him in court of 29 more. All the victims were young men, most between 18 and 25 years old. Most of them were either sexually mutilated or showed signs of sexual assault.

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Yet at the time of Kraft’s arrest on May 14, 1983, he was a quiet, friendly successful businessman with close family ties and many good friends. Those friends came both from the gay community, where he and his roommate, Jeff Selig, socialized as a couple, and through contacts at the various companies where he worked as a consultant.

But central to Kraft’s life was his family: his parents in Midway City, his three sisters, and a broad range of uncles, cousins, nieces and in-laws.

“Our family is so large that just about every month there was some kind of birthday celebration,” Don Plunkett, one of Kraft’s uncles, testified. “Randy was at every one of them that I can remember.”

Two dozen or so friends and co-workers have praised Kraft before the jury to the extent that one observer turned to a friend and said, “The man is a saint.”

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Only one of these character witnesses, however, has even raised the suggestion of Kraft’s guilt. Most have not volunteered any information on the subject or have simply said they can’t believe it.

But Olga Alvarez, who worked with Kraft at J.L. Products, said this week that Kraft “was very gentle, nothing of the face that we are seeing now; he’s a complete stranger to me, what I’m seeing now.” She later called it “a dark side” and said she is still “traumatized” by Kraft’s conviction.

She added: “I can’t picture him doing all these things we are talking about now. It’s like he had another personality or something.” The defense is expected to finish its presentation in the penalty phase of the trial next week. Unless Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown offers rebuttal witnesses, the case would go to the jury after closing arguments and instructions from Judge Donald A. McCartin.

The jurors have just one decision to make: whether to return a verdict of death in the gas chamber or a verdict of life without parole.

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Although it is the judge who imposes the sentence, a jury’s death-verdict finding is more than just a recommendation to the court. If the jury votes death, the judge would have to set that verdict aside in order to impose a lesser sentence of life without parole. Since capital punishment was reinstated in California 12 years ago, however, no Orange County judge has ever changed a jury’s death verdict.


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