Randy Steven Kraft, a soft-spoken computer consultant depicted by prosecutors as perhaps the worst serial killer in U.S. history, was convicted Friday of 16 murders, most of the victims young men who were sexually mutilated and dumped along freeways over more than a decade.
Kraft, 44, appeared stunned when the clerk in Orange County Superior Court here read the first guilty verdict, shaking his head as they continued. Families of victims broke into tears as they heard verdicts involving their loved ones.The jurors, who had been sequestered for 11 days, convicted Kraft on every murder count and on one count of mayhem and one of sodomy. The verdicts came six years to the very week after Kraft's May 14, 1983, arrest by two California Highway Patrol officers who found a dead Marine in the front passenger seat of his car.
The verdicts ended the first phase of a gruesome, nine-month-long trial that subjected the jury of 10 men and two women to day upon day of pictures and evidence about 16 bruised and battered young men. Courtroom proceedings centered on the jargon and details of human pathology, of Kraft's meanderings in the world of Southern California's gay bars and of his driving - impulsive nighttime excursions up and down the freeways.
"I like to drink and drive," Kraft told Long Beach police in 1975, saying that he "really got into one of my driving fits" on the night he was last seen with one of his alleged victims.
The verdicts were called "excellent" by Chief Deputy District Attorney James G. Enright, who said that he had no regrets that his office decided to try Kraft on 16 murders, which took place between 1971 and 1983. That controversial decision had brought criticism from those who thought it would result in unnecessary time and expense.
Kraft attorney C. Thomas McDonald said that Kraft's private reaction was "utter disappointment, of course."
Legal experts say that the massive effort put together by Kraft's three lawyers to defend him against so many murders is likely to make the case and its possible $10 million cost the most expensive criminal proceeding in California's history.
Kraft's case is also unprecedented statewide because of the 45 deaths linked to him. California's most prolific mass murderer has been Juan Corona, twice convicted of murdering 25 itinerant farm workers whose bodies were found buried in fruit orchards near Yuba City in 1971.
Kraft has been charged with killings in Oregon and Michigan that took place when Kraft was traveling in those states on business, but those allegations were not part of the Orange County trial.
Described as a quiet, well-liked businessman who enjoyed walking his dog, Kraft, by some accounts, lived a normal existence in a small bungalow he shared with another man in Long Beach, a city south of Los Angeles.
Kraft, who did not testify at his trial, has denied killing anyone.