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Fate of Dozens of OC Killers to be Decided By Voters

When voters cast their ballots for or against Proposition 34 today, they will decide if more than 63 Orange County murderers live or die.

There are 10 men in Orange County, and 63 other men and women whose cases originated in Orange County on death row, who probably have the most at stake in state voters' decision Tuesday on Proposition 34, which would abolish the death penalty.

Those 73 individuals have either been sentenced to death or are facing trial where the death penalty is being sought.

Defense attorney Michael Molfetta, who represents the high profile case of Itzcoatl Ocampo, a former Marine accused of killing a mother and son in Yorba Linda and then slaying four homeless men, said he does not think Proposition 34 would speed up his client's appearance before a jury.

``Ocampo is such a massive case, and it's so complex,'' that it will take a long time to get the case ready for trial with or without the death penalty, Molfetta said.

``There would be obvious ramifications if there's no death penalty on the table. Obviously, the trial would be shorter but in terms of preparation it really doesn't change so much.''

There are already millions of pages of discovery Molfetta and his co- counsel Randall Longwith have to review.

Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy, who is prosecuting several death penalty cases, agrees with Molfetta that elimination of capital punishment might not speed up trials by much.

Passage of Proposition 34 would result in net savings to the state and counties of ``the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis,'' according to an analysis prepared by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and Director of Finance Ana J. Matosantos.

Part of the proposition would redirect $100 million in savings to law enforcement agencies for investigations of unsolved homicide and rape cases.

Opponents argue that killers get lifetime housing and healthcare benefits and that it's cruel because it would deprive some victims of what they view as justice.

California's death penalty law was approved by voters in 1978 and has resulted in 13 executions, the most recent in 2006. Since 1978, more California Death Row inmates have died by suicide than execution.

Molfetta doesn't think state voters will approve Proposition 34.

``My feeling is in the state of California it's going to take the death of an innocent, one in which everyone concedes is innocent for the death penalty to be repealed,'' Molfetta said.

The death penalty cases pending in Orange County are:

  • Jason Balcom, convicted in March of raping and murdering a pregnant newlywed in her Costa Mesa apartment in 1988. However, jurors could not reach a verdict in the penalty phase.
  • Scott DeKraai, who was charged with the worst mass killing in Orange County history in which eight people were killed in a shooting at a Seal Beach nail salon last October.
  • Pasqual Loera, a Navy deserter charged with the Valentine's Day fatal shootings of a woman and her live-in boyfriend in Westminster.
  • Iftekhar Murtaza, who is charged with killing the father and sister of his former girlfriend in Anaheim Hills because prosecutors say he blamed them for breaking up his relationship over religious differences.
  • Richard Raymond Ramirez, who was on death row for decades before a federal judge overturned his murder conviction in 2008, but who is again facing capital punishment for allegedly raping and murdering a 22-year-old woman outside a Garden Grove bar in 1983.
  • Hilbert Thomas, who is charged with killing a Stanton salesman and his secretary because prosecutors say he coveted a car owned by one of the victims.
  • Andrew Urdiales, a former Marine convicted of killing three prostitutes in Illinois and is charged with killing five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995.
  • Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who is charged with the dismemberment murder of a neighbor in Costa Mesa and the killing of a friend of the neighbor.

- City News Service

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