Oxnard Suspect May Face Death Penalty in Slaying of Woman, 73

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 37-year-old Oxnard man accused in the 1995 slaying of a 73-year-old woman will face the death penalty if convicted, the district attorney's office announced Friday, bringing the total number of capital cases in the county this year to a system-sapping seven.

Charles McKinzie Jr. is the latest capital crime defendant. He is accused of befriending and then brutally slaying Ruth E. Avril of Oxnard on Dec. 21, 1995.

Prosecutors and police allege that McKinzie turned up on the elderly woman's doorstep and helped her carry a newly bought Christmas tree into her home. He then allegedly hid nearby for a few hours, then ambushed her when she came downstairs to turn out a light.

He allegedly beat and strangled her, stole presents from beneath the tree, and used her car to dump her body in an irrigation ditch near Ormond Beach. McKinzie was arrested after police received a tip last summer.

He faces charges of murder, robbery, burglary, carjacking and kidnapping. The district attorney added three special circumstances to the charges Friday, which make him eligible for execution--murder during the commission of a robbery, during the commission of a carjacking and when lying in wait.

McKinzie's trial is scheduled for Feb. 17, 1998. However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn said it is unlikely to start then because he and McKinzie's attorney, Willard Wiksell, who could not be reached for comment, are also handling another capital case involving defendant Alan Brett Holland.

That is a common problem these days for a county suddenly swamped by death penalty cases. In addition to McKinzie and Holland, five other people face possible death penalties--Diana Haun, Michael Dally, Michael R. Johnson, Spencer Brasure and Billy Lyn Davis.

The impact is great on the entire court system, but especially on the district attorney and public defender's offices, which must assign two attorneys to each defendant and use up a large amount of limited resources, said Richard Holmes, supervisor of the district attorney's major crimes unit.

He noted that each case is lengthy, so prosecutors are taken out of circulation for some time, and other attorneys in the office have to pick up the slack. And the expenses can be enormous compared with other cases because they involve exhaustive research, including psychological studies and even MRI examinations.

"They are extremely resource-rich cases," he said, noting that investigators must find family and friends and many other people for the penalty phase of each case, when the defendant's character and background are laid out for a jury deciding between life and death. "If they lived in Minnesota, you've got to send investigators to Minnesota."

Holmes noted that the county handled only one capital case during all of 1991.

It's hard to explain the surge, but there's no doubt that it is taxing on a county with limited resources.

"It can be like an arms race," he said. "The defense pours resources into the penalty phase, [and] you've got to pour resources in."

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