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Jurors Study the Site of '95 Slaying

Crime: They walk area where 73-year-old was strangled, as convicted killer Kenneth McKinzie watches.


On a sunny, cloudless Tuesday, jurors who will decide the fate of convicted killer Kenneth McKinzie boarded a bus bound for the most significant locations in the 3-year-old murder case.

First, they inspected the black Ford Taurus in which the victim, Ruth Avril, 73, had been transported during an assault. Then they walked down the alley behind her two-story apartment on Dollie Street in south Oxnard.

It was there, in a working-class residential neighborhood, that Avril was beaten on Dec. 21, 1995.

And finally, after climbing back on the bus for one last stop, the jurors walked along the irrigation ditch on Arnold Road where Avril's body was found the morning after her slaying. She had been strangled.

It was there that the jurors spent the most time, peering into the shallow gully filled with stagnant water and lined with blossoming wildflowers.

Throughout the so-called "jury view," conducted to give jurors a firsthand look at key venues in the case, McKinzie, 39, stood back from the crowd and watched silently.

Dressed in a dark suit, he was flanked by five armed deputies and wore a restrictive leg brace to limit his movements. As the jurors piled back on the bus to return to the courthouse, McKinzie asked the deputies to take him back to a patrol car.

The jury tour lasted more than an hour and capped the prosecution's presentation of evidence in the case. After a one-day break, the defense is scheduled to begin its side of the penalty trial Thursday.

McKinzie, 39, was convicted of murder with special circumstances, robbery, burglary and carjacking last fall after a two-month trial.

The four-time felon was acquainted with Avril, who owned the building across the alley from his girlfriend's apartment.

The jury concluded McKinzie had attacked Avril in her garage during a robbery attempt and beat her about the head and torso before stuffing her body into the trunk of her car.

McKinzie then drove to the ditch on Arnold Road, where he choked Avril to death and dumped her body, prosecutors said. He later returned to Avril's apartment, stole her stereo, VCR and some Christmas presents from under her tree.

The jury could not, however, unanimously reach a decision on whether McKinzie should be executed for those crimes or sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Consequently, prosecutors decided to retry the penalty phase and a second jury was impaneled in April.

Before boarding the bus to begin Tuesday's session, Judge Vincent J. O'Neill warned the jurors not to talk or communicate in any way with each other at the crime scenes.

"It is important to remember that the admonition applies even in this situation," he said. "This is not the time to discuss with other jurors or anyone what you're seeing."

Instead, the judge urged jurors to write down their questions. Several posed questions that were passed to the judge, including inquiries on the position of the victim's body in the ditch and the depth of water at the time.

O'Neill said only that jurors should refer to the testimony that has already been offered in the case.

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