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Judge Postpones Kraft Murder Trial 6 Months

January 15, 1987|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

Despite vigorous protest from prosecutors, a Superior Court judge Tuesday postponed the Randy Steven Kraft murder trial another six months--to July 6--and left open the possibility of further delays.

Kraft, 41, of Long Beach, is charged with 16 murders, and prosecutors intend to introduce evidence tying him to 21 others for sentencing purposes if he is convicted. There have been numerous court delays since his May 14, 1983, arrest. The latest postponement came last May, when defense attorneys said they would need until March, 1987, to prepare for trial.

Judge Luis A. Cardenas at that time set a Jan. 12, 1987, trial date but indicated that date would be tentative.

Wednesday, Cardenas concluded at the end of a four-day hearing that he "reluctantly" would have to postpone the trial again.

"If I were to make any other decision, the consequences in the long run could be horrific," Cardenas said.

Kraft's three court-appointed attorneys had asked for a one-year delay. Cardenas said he would not delay the trial that long but added that the July 6, 1987, date was "tentative" and added, "Let's see where we stand then."

While Kraft is charged with only 16 murders, defense lawyers argued that they had to investigate all 37 killings involved in the case. Of the other 21 killings, which would be raised in the penalty phase of Kraft's trial, six occurred in Oregon and two took place in Michigan. The trial would reach the penalty phase only if Kraft is convicted of first-degree murder in the first phase.

Kraft's attorneys say they are ready for trial on only 24 of the 37 murders. During the hearing in Cardenas' court, their chief criminalist, Robert R. Ogle, testified that he would need seven months to a year to analyze physical evidence in the case--a process started in recent weeks--and that he would need even more time than that to analyze evidence in the Michigan and Oregon cases. Authorities in those states have refused to send their physical evidence to California.

Defense attorney William J. Kopeny argued that the case could have gone to trial and could have been completed by now if prosecutors had not filed so many accusations against Kraft.

"It's (their) decision--why they are not satisfied with just the 16 murders is known only to them," Kopeny said.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. James P. Cloninger took exception.

"It was the defendant who determined the scope of this case," Cloninger said.

Cloninger argued vehemently that the defense has had 3 1/2 years to put its case together and that the defense lawyers have failed to give a legitimate reason why more time is needed.

"There is absolutely no showing by the defense that they have been diligent in preparing this case for trial," Cloninger said.

Cardenas heard testimony during the hearing from Rodger J. DeVaul, father of Rodger DeVaul Jr., one of the 16 victims Kraft is charged with murdering. DeVaul urged that Cardenas provide the defense attorneys whatever resources they need.

"Let's get going on this thing," DeVaul said during an emotional plea. He has attended almost every hearing on the Kraft case.

DeVaul said later outside court that he expected a delay but had hoped that it would be no more than three months.

Cloninger said later that he was disappointed. When asked if he thought the trial could get started in July, he answered, "From my perspective, it could have started Jan. 12."

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