By Troy Anderson
SANTA ANA, California (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran charged in the stabbing murders of four Orange County, California homeless men made an initial court appearance on Wednesday as a prosecutor accused him of killing for a "thrill."
Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, was charged on Tuesday with four counts of first degree murder that include special circumstance allegations, making him eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted.
The former U.S. Marine was chased down by bystanders and arrested on Friday night following the fourth in a string of stabbings that rattled Orange County.
He appeared briefly in Orange County Superior Court, where a judge postponed his arraignment until February 17 at the request of defense attorney Randall Longwith.
Ocampo emphatically told the judge "Yes your honor" when asked if he understood his right to a speedy preliminary hearing.
He has been held in an isolation cell at Orange County Jail with a protective gown, also known as a suicide blanket, to prevent him from taking his own life, Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.
Outside court, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty in the sensational case, told reporters that Ocampo committed the murders for a "thrill."
"It's somebody who wants to kill people just because he wants to, just to see what it's like to make those kills, and he gets a thrill out of it, so we refer to it as a thrill kill," Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas has accused Ocampo of targeting his final victim, John Berry, after the 64-year-old transient appeared in a Los Angeles Times article about the case.
The top Orange County prosecutor described Ocampo as "lucid, calm, intelligent" and said he would counter what he expected to be an insanity defense by the defendant's lawyers.
Longwith, the defense attorney, told reporters after the hearing that he has only able to speak to his client for 15 seconds through a food slot at his jail cell.
"He seems very scared, at least the way he looks and speaks to me," Longwith said.
Ocampo is accused of first killing 53-year-old James McGillivray on December 20, attacking him as he slept behind a shopping center in the Orange County suburb of Placentia and stabbing him more than 40 times.
Video footage of the crime captured by a recently installed security camera shows the killer, dressed in dark pants and a black hooded sweatshirt, kneeling on McGillivray's chest as he stabs him in the head, neck and upper torso.
Eight days later the body of a second transient, Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, 42, was found under a freeway underpass in Anaheim, stabbed more than 50 times in the head and torso.
Ocampo is also charged in the murder of 57-year-old Paulus "Dutch" Smit, who was stabbed more than 60 times behind the Yorba Linda Public Library. His body was found on December 30.
Ocampo served in the Marines from July 2006 to July 2010 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008, a Marine spokeswoman said.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Paul Thomasch)