Drifter to Stand Trial in Slaying of Woman, 90 : Court: Kevin Jon Kolodziej faces murder and burglary charges that could result in the death penalty.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County judge on Thursday ordered a mentally ill drifter to stand trial on murder and burglary charges in the stabbing death of 90-year-old Velasta Johnson.

Kevin Jon Kolodziej, 25, showed little reaction as Municipal Court Judge John J. Hunter ruled there was enough evidence to try him on charges that he murdered Johnson while burglarizing her house.

The combination of charges creates a "special circumstance" that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole for Kolodziej if he is convicted.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris has alleged that Kolodziej entered Johnson's house in Ventura in search of food and killed her, not long after he walked away from the Ventura County Medical Center on Jan. 17. He submitted the case to Hunter without comment.

Deputy Public Defender Steve Paul Lipson then argued that the evidence of burglary presented during the two-day preliminary hearing was too thin to support that charge.

Lipson also argued that Kolodziej, a paranoid-schizophrenic who was being treated at the hospital for severe self-inflicted stab wounds, was too mentally ill to have intended burglarizing the Johnsons' house.

Lipson recalled that Kolodziej told police he picked up a knife from atop a half-eaten pie in Johnson's house only for protection, but did not touch the pie itself.

Kolodziej's intent was not burglary, Lipson argued. He mentioned only once to police that he wanted food that morning, but he asked five people, including Johnson's husband, if they knew where he could take a shower, Lipson said.

"There's absolutely no evidence this fatal stabbing was committed in furtherance of any burglary," Lipson said. "It's a very large stretch to say he entered the house with the intent to deprive the Johnsons of any property."

However, Hunter replied, "I think there's enough probable cause to believe that's what he intended to do."

The judge said the evidence showed that Kolodziej killed Johnson "in the course and scope of entering the house with the intent to take food."

"What is the evidence?" Lipson asked.

"He said so," Hunter replied. "And the knife was on the pie."

Kolodziej, who is being held in the Ventura County Jail on $1-million bail, will be arraigned March 23 before Superior Court Judge James M. McNally.

During a break in Thursday's hearing, the victim's daughter, Jackie Thetford, met with Kolodziej's mother in the empty courtroom.

"I told her how sorry I was," said Gloria Kolodziej, who traveled from Virginia Beach, Va., for her son's hearing. "She said that she felt so sorry for me. But she is angry at Kevin, and if I were wearing her shoes, I'd feel the same way."

Gloria Kolodziej blamed police for letting her son go even though they testified that they knew he was psychotic and could be violent.

"I have tried for a year and a half, two years to get help for Kevin," she said. "If he'd gotten the proper attention and medication . . . Mrs. Johnson would still be alive and my son would be getting medication instead of being on trial for murder."

Kolodziej, who hung his head during the hearing, burst into a smile when he saw his mother walk into the courtroom Thursday with his former girlfriend, Loretta Hart.

During a break, Hart said she fell in love with the defendant in Salt Lake City, helped support him and bore his son, Dylan Kolodziej, now age 3.

But when mental illness struck and twisted Kolodziej's thinking, their hopes for a future together were destroyed, she said.

"You know how all little girls grow up with the fairy-tale idea of meeting Prince Charming?" said Hart, 23, now of Hollywood. "That's how it was with Kevin. But my fairy tale was shattered. My fairy tale was pretty much stomped on."

As Kolodziej grew more delusional in 1988, Hart said, she had to end the romance.

"He talked about metaphysical things and spirits trying to take over him," she said. Kolodziej told her, "You're the reincarnated Wicked Witch of the South and you're trying to take over my male energy," she said.

In October, 1990, he went back to Utah from California to visit Hart and Dylan.

Hart said she demanded that he get a job, a doctor and psychiatric counseling. Kolodziej worked three days for the Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant in Ogden, then quit.

"He said, 'I can't stand this job,"' she said. "He took off, stole my car and left. And that was the last time I saw him."

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