The prosecution calls Randy Steven Kraft a "score card killer," a fiendish freeway roamer who murdered young male hitchhikers and added their names, handwritten in a type of code, to a list he kept on a yellow pad in the trunk of his car.
After 10 weeks of testimony by defense witnesses, the focus of Kraft's Orange County Superior Court trial will finally turn to the defendant himself today.
After six years of being depicted as one of the worst serial killers in the nation's history, will the gaunt, 44-year-old Long Beach computer consultant finally tell his own story in front of a jury?
Kraft's lawyers know there is much left that needs to be explained.
"Of course there are things the jurors are wondering about," said defense attorney C. Thomas McDonald. But whether to put him on the witness stand, the lawyer said, is "a difficult dilemma."
Kraft was arrested May 14, 1983, after two California Highway Patrol officers stopped Kraft's car, which was moving erratically, on the San Diego Freeway in Mission Viejo and found 25-year-old Marine Terry Lee Gambrel strangled in the front passenger seat. The victim was partly disrobed. The width of his belt, which was found in the back seat, matched the size of the red mark around his neck.
Kraft took a series of field sobriety tests without telling the officers anything, except that his passenger was a hitchhiker.
Since then Kraft has been formally charged with 16 Orange County murders. If he is convicted, prosecutors at his death penalty hearing may bring up as many as 29 others--including six deaths in Oregon and two in Michigan. No one else in the state's history has ever been accused of so many serial killings.
Despite the number of murders involved, the trial has generated little media interest outside of Orange County.
In September, when the prosecution began its case, more than two dozen representatives of major newspapers, wire services, television and radio stations were on hand. But since then, coverage has dwindled to a trickle. On most days, the courtroom is more than 75% empty. Apparently, the public has found much of the testimony too gory or technical.
Part of the reason for the lack of interest may be that the victims' deaths created no particular community stir. The killings were spread out over an 11-year period. Most of the victims were either Marines or transients. Their deaths gained significant media attention only in their hometowns, scattered throughout the country.
But media interest has picked up since Kraft's attorneys announced that he would take the stand if the court would limit cross-examination. Judge Donald A. McCartin did not give the defense lawyers the assurances they had sought about cross-examination, which they have said might make them keep Kraft off the stand.
Scoring Some Points
Kraft attorney McDonald, saying "we're scoring some real points in the courtroom," has complained that the press has not focused enough on the strengths of his case.
One week McDonald proved through extensive research from a former Firestone Co. tire expert that a tire track across the shorts of one victim as he lay dead on a roadway could not have been made by Kraft's car. In several of the 16 deaths, McDonald has put on witnesses--many of them from throughout the country--in an attempt to show that other parties were once suspects in their deaths, or that the police should have pursued other leads more strongly.
But the judge would not let defense lawyers present many of their theories to the jury. One was a defense suggestion that Freeway Killer William Bonin, who has been sentenced to death twice for a series of murders in Los Angeles and Orange counties, may have been responsible for several murders attributed to Kraft.
"Gentlemen, this is not even a close call," McCartin once told the defense lawyers as they sought to introduce evidence about Bonin.
Kraft's lawyers also recognize that their big problem may lie not with their own case, but with the impact from some of Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown's evidence.
Even McCartin has said from the bench that he has never seen a case with such overwhelming circumstantial evidence.
"Nobody can explain how Terry Gambrel got in that car except Kraft himself," said one law enforcement official.
Evidence in Pictures
Other evidence includes pictures of three of the victims found in Kraft's car or house. Many of the pictures show the victims in lewd poses. Prosecutor Brown contends they were already dead, or in the throes of death, when the pictures were taken.
Was it coincidence that Kraft happened to have pictures of young men whose bodies were found dumped along freeways or roadways? If Kraft testified, could he explain those pictures?