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Kraft Defense Off to Shaky Start

July 18, 1989|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

Defense lawyers in the Randy Steven Kraft murder trial, beset by problems organizing their witnesses, got off to a rocky start in the death penalty hearing Monday when a morning witness failed to show up.

Kraft's lawyers had unexpectedly called Bryce Wilson, a friend of two Buena Park men who were among the 16 victims in the 44-year-old computer consultant's first-degree murder conviction two months ago.

But Wilson, who has already testified twice in the Kraft case, failed to appear. Wilson had testified he was with the two men the night they disappeared in 1983. Their bodies were found later that weekend.

Kraft attorney James G. Merwin declined to say why he wanted jurors to hear from Wilson again. "But it would have been interesting," he said.

The Kraft lawyers began their penalty-phase defense without making an opening statement.

Only 2 Verdicts Possible

Jurors in Kraft's Santa Ana trial must choose between only two possible verdicts in the penalty phase: death in the gas chamber or life without parole. Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin would have the right to reduce the jury's death verdict, but no judge has done that since capital punishment was reinstated in California in 1977.

Prosecutors say Kraft may be the most prolific killer in U.S. history. While the jurors have seen evidence of 24 murders linked to him--the 16 in the guilt phase plus six in Oregon and two in Michigan in the penalty phase--prosecutors claim he could be responsible for nearly 70 murders altogether.

They have named 45 specific victims, but they claim that a coded list found in Kraft's car is Kraft's own score card, and it would total nearly 70 victims.

Kraft's lawyers have not disclosed their plans for a defense. They will not say who the witnesses will be during the upcoming defense portion of the penalty hearing, nor whether Kraft--who did not testify during the guilt phase--plans to testify.

Witnesses Monday included a former private-security-force owner who blamed one of the Oregon murders in 1982 on a "cruddy, greasy, dirty-looking person" who hung around the garbage dumps near Wilsonville, Ore., at the time the victim was killed. The witness, Robert P. Hayes, said he overheard the man telling acquaintances about bouncing a victim out of his truck.

'Portland Hawaii'

However, the victim, 19-year-old Lance Taggs, is one of the prosecution's strongest cases in the penalty phase. The phrase "Portland Hawaii" was found on the Kraft list, and Taggs was wearing a Hawaiian shirt when found. Also, personal items belonging to Taggs--a tote bag and a martial arts weapon--were found at Kraft's house.

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