SANTA ANA — Convicted serial killer Randy Steven Kraft was sentenced to death Wednesday by a judge who said the mutilations carried out by the 44-year-old computer consultant were "hard for me to comprehend."
"I can't imagine doing these things in scientific experiments on a dead person, much less (to) someone alive," Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin said.
The judge's decision to uphold the jury's Aug. 11 death verdict against Kraft in the murders of 16 young men brought a mix of tears and grim smiles of satisfaction from many family members whose loved ones were listed among the victims.
One father, Darwin Hall of Pocatello, Ida., shouted out as the defendant was led from the courtroom: "Burn in hell, Kraft."
Prosecutors have accused Kraft of killing 45 young men in Southern California, Oregon and Michigan, two of the states where he traveled on business. But they believe, based on a handwritten, coded, so-called "death list" found in his car, that his victims may number more than 65, which would make him the nation's worst serial killer.
The victims--most of whom were between 18 and 25--usually were dumped along freeway ramps or in remote areas, and many were sexually mutilated. Prosecutors believe that most victims were hitchhikers--many of them Marines--who were drugged by Kraft, then strangled after he was able to overpower them.
From the bench, McCartin said the carnage was so great that he would mention only one of the 16 victims included in the Orange County charges against Kraft: Cigarette lighter burns to the victim's eyes and to his body, his mouth packed solid with dirt, his genitals removed, and the body punctured by a swizzle stick and left wrapped around a tree.
As the judge continued, Darwin Hall wrapped an arm around his wife, Lois, who began to cry. McCartin was talking about their son, 22-year-old Mark Howard Hall, who was found in a wooded area in Silverado Canyon in January, 1976.
"I don't know of any type of person who could do that to another human being," McCartin said.
Kraft listened with his chin resting in his left hand. When given a chance to speak, he was brief: "I have not murdered anyone, and any reasonable review of the record will show that."
Ten of the 12 jurors who set Kraft's punishment at death and one of the alternates were among the spectators in the crowded courtroom. Most indicated that they attended the sentencing because they had invested more than a year of their lives in the trial.
In the first months of the trial, jurors were subjected daily to blown-up color photographs of nude, mutilated bodies, taken within minutes after the victims were found.
"I can still shut my eyes and see the evidence," juror Carol Neal said Wednesday. "There won't be an end for me until he's gone."
With automatic appeals in death penalty cases, experts said it could take at least 10 years before Kraft could be executed.
One victim's sister in the courtroom had a special reason for wanting to see the Kraft case come to an end. The skeletal remains of Sharon Crotwell's brother, Keith Crotwell, have been kept by prosecutors as evidence.
Crotwell, 19, the only victim ever seen to leave with Kraft in his car, disappeared from a Long Beach parking lot in March, 1975. His head was found in the waters near the Long Beach Marina two months later. His skeletal remains were found in Orange County five months after that but were not identified as Crotwell's until after Kraft's 1983 arrest.
"We're hoping to get Keith's remains back as soon as we can, so we can have some kind of memorial service," she said. "It's the only way my family can put this behind us."
Kraft's relatives, who have been highly supportive of him, chose not to attend the sentencing hearing. Besides his parents, Kraft has three sisters and several nieces, nephews and in-laws who testified on his behalf during the penalty phase of his trial.
Kraft's sister, Doris Lane of Midway City, speaking for the family, told The Times: "Randy comes from a very strong family. We believe he is innocent; we don't believe he received a fair trial. I will \o7 never\f7 believe that Randy ever killed anyone."
But the judge said during one hearing outside the jury's presence that the evidence against Kraft was the most overwhelming he had ever seen.
Kraft, who was living a quiet life with a roommate in Long Beach's gay community, was arrested at 1:10 a.m. on May 14, 1983, on the northbound Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo, half a mile north of the Oso Parkway exit. Two California Highway Patrol officers who had stopped him for weaving across the lanes discovered a dead Marine--25-year-old Terry Lee Gambrel--in the front passenger seat of Kraft's car.
A search of the car turned up numerous pill vials for prescriptions to drugs found in the body of several other young men whose murders had been unsolved up to then. The so-called "death list" was found in the trunk. Under the floor mat were pictures of several other victims, many of them nude and apparently dead.