Randy Steven Kraft, a 44-year-old computer expert portrayed by prosecutors as perhaps the most prolific serial killer in the country, was condemned to death by a jury Friday for the gruesome sex murders of 16 young men in Orange County.
Kraft sat with his hands folded, tapping his thumbs together as he heard the death verdict, but showed no emotion. He whispered to one of his attorneys to have the 10 women and two men on the jury polled individually about their verdict.
"He should die for what he did to all these people," said juror Carol Neal, 33, of Tustin, outside the courtroom later. "I've had nightmares thinking about the horror of what this man has done."
Juror Debora Garcia, 31, of Anaheim said: "I'm never going to be normal again. I was naive about so many things."
The jurors, who had listened to the sometimes-grisly testimony since last September in the Santa Ana courtroom, said afterward that the choice between death and life in prison without parole--their only other option--was not close. After two days of deliberation, they took their first ballot Friday morning, and it was unanimous.
Most of the jurors hugged Shirley DeVaul and Judy Nelson, the mothers of two young Buena Park men whom Kraft killed together six years ago. DeVaul wore a tiny medallion on her blouse with a photo of her son.
"Justice has finally been done," she said later. "It won't bring back my son. But it's a guarantee that Kraft won't hurt anyone anymore."
Nelson thanked the jurors and said later, "They could see my pain."
Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin set a tentative sentencing date of Oct. 27. But Kraft's lawyers told him they did not think they could be ready for a sentencing hearing by then.
On May 12, the jury convicted Kraft of all 16 murders presented to them. But during the penalty phase, prosecutors introduced eight more murders from Oregon and Michigan.
Authorities have linked Kraft to 45 murders altogether. But they say the numbers could be much greater, based on a list found in Kraft's briefcase with 61 entries, which prosecutors have called his own "score card" of victims. The jurors saw fewer than half of the notations on the list but said afterward they had no doubt it was a death list.
Some jurors said they could find no reason to return a verdict less than death. Others said they felt some sympathy for Kraft's many sisters, nieces and in-laws who testified about his character at the two-month penalty hearing.
"I feel like I know him better than his family does," said juror Pat Marcantel, 37, of Fullerton. "I think his family needs to wake up. He was a manipulator."
Several jurors said Kraft's cool demeanor throughout the trial bothered them.
Marcantel said that when Kraft looked at her as the verdict was read, "It made me nervous. . . . I felt a pain in my stomach. This time, I just looked right back at him."
Juror Garcia said she was convinced when the trial began that Kraft was innocent, because "he didn't seem like he could do this. Then when I looked over the evidence myself, I went through everything with a magnifying glass. . . . Then I knew he was guilty."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan F. Brown told jurors in closing arguments that Kraft's arrest was "an end of an era, of Mr. Kraft flying freeways, murdering and dehumanizing people." That rampage began in 1971 and ended with his arrest in 1983.
Law enforcement officials believe Kraft would pick up hitchhikers, ply them with alcohol and drugs, and then overpower them when they were too weak to resist. He would use their own shoelaces to bind their wrists, and then strangle many of them with their own belts. He would then dump their bodies along freeway ramps or in remote areas.
A favorite dumping ground was the maze of freeway connections at the juncture of the San Diego and San Gabriel River freeways in the northwest corner of Orange County.
The defense tried to show that evidence was not strong enough in some of the murders. In others, they tried to point to other suspects.
But juror Neal said very little that the defense did made any impact.
"I kept waiting, thinking, today is the day the defense is really going to come up with something. But it never happened," she said.
Kraft attorney C. Thomas McDonald sat nervously outside the courtroom with the news media and the victims' families for 30 minutes waiting for the doors to open for the 12:30 p.m. verdict. Because the jury had deliberated only two days, he said, "It doesn't look very hopeful."
Kraft's family members, who had been surrounded by scores of news media people when the jury found Kraft guilty, did not appear in McCartin's courtroom Friday.
The death verdict came almost 11 months after testimony began, making it the longest criminal trial in the history of Orange County Superior Court. Many legal experts believe it may also be one of the most expensive criminal cases California has ever seen. A judge, however, has sealed records of the costs from the public until all of Kraft's appeals are exhausted.