Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Randy Kraft, the Freeway Killer



On Sept. 8, 1983, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates held a press conference, announcing that his men had "been able to establish Randy Kraft's propensity, without a doubt, for sexually deviant behavior that goes back to the 1970 period." Prosecutor Bryan Brown declared he was ready for trial on 16 murder counts, the final tally including victims Don Crisel, Keith Crotwell, Scott Hughes, Michael Inderbeiten, Richard Keith, Edward Moore, Ron Wiebe, Roland Young and "John Doe" from 1973.

Kraft's preliminary hearing began, after five postponements, on Sept. 27, 1983, and lasted seven weeks. Judge John Ryan barred cameras from his court but rejected a defense bid to exclude spectators. Highway patrol officers described Kraft's arrest with a corpse in his car, and homicide detectives outlined the evidence linking Kraft to various murders. Forensic pathologists Walter Fischer and Robert Richards detailed the injuries suffered by specific victims. In closing arguments, Bryan Brown dubbed Kraft "a true scorecard killer," while attorney Doug Otto claimed Brown had proved nothing. Judge Ryan found the evidence sufficient to hold Kraft for trial.

Doug Otto would not be there when it started, though. In August 1984 he withdrew from the case, put off by Kraft's insistence on serving as co-counsel. Otto was swiftly replaced and the legal maneuvers dragged on, costing California taxpayers $2 million by April 1986. Eight more murder charges were filed against Kraft, six in Oregon and two in Michigan, but none would ever go to trial.

Judge Donald McCartin
Judge Donald

More than five years after his arrest, on Sept. 26, 1988, Kraft's trial convened before Judge Donald McCartin. Defense motions to quash all evidence from the 1983 searches were denied, but McCartin barred any reference to victims beyond the 16 named in Orange County charges. Attorney C. Thomas McDonald's opening statement dismissed the state's case as "suspicion, innuendo and prosecutorial rhetoric," while calling Kraft a "homeowner, taxpayer and hard worker, just like many other citizens of our country." The bottom line: "Mr. Kraft killed no one."

Prosecutors called more than 157 witnesses and presented 1,052 exhibits to contest that assertion, resting the state's case on Nov. 30, 1988. Kraft's defenders relied on a dual strategy of alibis and alternate suspects, with imprisoned serial killers William Bonin and Patrick Kearney chief among the latter. Closing arguments ended on May 1, 1989, and jurors deliberated for 11 days to reach their final verdict. They acquitted Kraft of sodomizing Rodger DeVaul but convicted him on all 16 murder charges, plus one count each of sodomy (Inderbeiten) and mutilation (for castrating Geoff Nelson).

Randy Kraft in court (CORBIS)
Randy Kraft in court

The separate penalty phase of Kraft's trial began on June 5. Defense attorneys presented a stack of family photo albums in a bid to humanize their client. Nearly a dozen jailers testified that Kraft had been a model prisoner during his six years behind bars, while former co-workers called him friendly, outgoing and "normal," one suggesting that society "would lose a very brilliant mind" if Kraft was executed. Unable to claim innocence after the guilty verdict, Kraft's lawyers called a psychiatrist to testify that Randy's violence was "something that he had no control of." Several ministers opposed to capital punishment also appeared, until Judge McCartin branded their testimony "silly" and "so far afield it's stupid."

The state called Joe Fancher, jailed in Orange County after his Colorado parole for auto theft, to describe Kraft's assault in March 1970, when Fancher was a 13-year-old runaway. Prosecutor Brown reviewed the "scorecard" list, telling jurors, "There's nothing wrong with him other than that he likes killing for sexual satisfaction." Jurors agreed and recommended the death penalty on Aug. 11, 1989. Judge McCartin made it official on Nov. 29, when he sentenced Kraft to die. McCartin noted receipt of several letters from parents of missing children, seeking information as to whether Kraft had killed their sons. "Somewhere down the line," McCartin suggested, "with response to your legal grounds for appeals, maybe you might give some thought in your waning moments to helping these people out."

Kraft was thinking, all right, but the only person he seemed to want to help was himself.

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