Death penalty sought for Iraq war vet in California killings

Reuters News
Posted: May 24, 2012 1:05 PM
Death penalty sought for Iraq war vet in California killings

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California prosecutors will seek the death penalty against an Iraq war veteran charged with six murders, including the serial "thrill" killings of four homeless men in Orange County, a top prosecutor said on Monday.

Itzcoatl Ocampo, a 24-year-old former U.S. Marine, is scheduled to stand trial in September on six counts of first degree murder with special circumstances, including the brutal stabbing deaths of four transients beginning in late December.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said he chose to seek the death penalty against Ocampo after consulting a special committee in his office that considers "the nature of the crime, the vulnerability of the victim, the defendant's criminal record and other factors."

In announcing the charges in January, Rackauckas described Ocampo, who served in the Marines from July 2006 to July 2010 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008, as a heartless "thrill" killer.

"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 at the time.

Ocampo is also charged with the murders of a high school friend's mother and brother, who were found stabbed to death in their home in October.

Ocampo, who has pleaded not guilty, is being held without bail in the Orange County jail pending trial. His defense attorney could not immediately be reached for comment on the decision by prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

The serial stabbing murders of four homeless men in December and January left residents in Orange County, located south of Los Angeles, increasingly on edge before Ocampo was arrested following the final stabbing on January 13.

Prosecutors said the four men were stabbed dozens of times, and they accused Ocampo of targeting his final victim, John Berry, after the 64-year-old transient was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the high-profile case.

One of the murders was captured on a recently installed security camera and shows the killer, dressed in dark pants and a black hooded sweatshirt, kneeling on his victim's chest as he stabs him repeatedly in the head, neck and upper torso.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)