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Trial Begins for Accused Serial Killer : Courts: Prosecutor compares William L. Suff to Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. Suff is charged in the Riverside County slayings of 13 prostitutes.

March 28, 1995|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIVERSIDE — In a dispassionate, plodding opening statement laced with crime scene photographs that moved relatives of some victims to near collapse, the prosecution Monday opened its case against accused Riverside County serial killer William L. Suff.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Zellerbach likened Suff, 44, to serial killers Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy, linking the onetime county employee to the deaths of 13 prostitutes over a 2 1/2-year killing rampage that ended in December, 1991.

Using a chart matching victims with evidence, Zellerbach promised to show the six-man, six-woman jury that fibers, hair, footprints, tire tracks and even cat hair would put Suff at each crime scene where the victims were found strangled. Some also were stabbed and mutilated. And some bodies were posed in lewd positions.

Further evidence would include DNA analysis of semen taken from most of the victims that Zellerbach previously said would be shown as Suff's and that Judge W. Charles Morgan has ruled admissible.

The defense's opening statements are expected today after Zellerbach completes his remarks. The trial is expected to last six months.

Zellerbach said he would present more than 400 witnesses to build his case. The most gripping, perhaps, will be a Lake Elsinore prostitute who told authorities that in 1989 she barely survived an attack by a man she later identified from photographs as Suff.

Suff, who worked as a warehouseman for Riverside County and even helped load up furniture and other supplies for detectives investigating the serial killings, was originally suspected in 19 prostitute slayings dating back to 1986, when the first two bodies were found within six weeks of one another. He is standing trial for 13 of them.

Suff was arrested in January, 1992, after a traffic stop in Riverside. Inside his van, Zellerbach said, detectives found rope, a bloody knife and a sleeping bag and other material whose fibers matched those found on the bodies of the victims.

In his opening statement, Zellerbach warned jurors to brace themselves for "gruesome and grotesque" photographs. But while jurors showed little reaction when viewing them, and while Suff took notes, one person after another among the victims' family members left the filled courtroom in tears.

Over the course of the day, about a dozen of them retreated to an anteroom where they quietly wept and comforted one another. Some held dampened paper towels to their faces.

"He's acting like nothing happened," one relative muttered, as photographs were displayed on overhead video monitors. "He's enjoying these pictures," said another.

When the photograph of one victim was shown, a male relative stood up abruptly and glared at Suff--who stared back. As court bailiffs tensed, the man walked briskly out of the courtroom and into the side room, where he stood against the wall and cried quietly.

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