Itzcoatl Ocampo, a 23-year-old Marine veteran, appeared in a jailhouse courtroom via video, but his arraignment was postponed to Feb. 17 at the request of his attorney. Ocampo's attorney had earlier said he hadn't had the opportunity to speak at length with his client. He said he's only spoken to Ocampo for 15 seconds through the food slot at the jail.
Ocampo, who is being held without bail, is accused of deliberately stalking his homeless victims before killing them. According to investigators, he was planning more murders, having even identified potential targets.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas formally charged Ocampo on Tuesday with four counts of first-degree murder, one for each of the homeless men he allegedly killed.
Investigators say all of the victims were stabbed to death with a 7-inch knife that could cut through bone. Rackauckas said at least three of the victims were stabbed more than 40 times.
The latest killing happened last Friday next to a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Anaheim, where the body of 64-year-old homeless man John Berry was found. Berry, a well-known homeless man and a Vietnam veteran, had apparently filed a police report the day before he was killed, fearing he was being stalked. Unfortunately, police say they did not have the time to respond to that report because they had been receiving hundreds of tips in this case.
Ocampo was caught just hours after Berry's death. Witnesses saw him running and chased him down. Investigators say he had blood on his hands and face when they took him into custody.
Before his death, Berry had been featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the recent killings. Rackauckas said Ocampo specifically sought out Berry because he was in the newspaper story.
The first murder of James McGillivray, 53, was captured on surveillance video on Dec. 21 outside a strip mall in Placentia. On Dec. 27, Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found stabbed to death near the Santa Ana River Trail in Anaheim. Two days later, Paulus Smit, 57, was found stabbed to death next to the Yorba Linda Public Library.
Rackauckas described Ocampo as a vicious killer and monster, and he said there was no indication whatsoever that the Iraq War veteran was mentally ill.
"We'll be proving that the defendant planned all of these murders in advance, that he stalked his victims, that he looked for the right opportunity to execute them. He did execute them. We'll also be proving that he had additional victims already selected," Rackauckas said.
The DA also labeled Ocampo's alleged actions as "thrill kills."
"It's somebody who wants to kill people just because he wants to, just to see what it's like just to make those kills, and he gets a thrill out of it, and that's why we refer to that as a 'thrill kill,'" said Rackauckas.
Ocampo's attorney told the media Tuesday that his client is being housed in the jail's mental ward and being kept in isolation. He will reportedly get a special gown to wear, placed in a single cell and monitored twenty-four hours a day for his safety.
Wednesday, his attorney also said his client will have to be mentally evaluated, but from what he's seen so far, Ocampo is very scared.
"As I explained to him as best I could what was going to happen, he looked at me and he answered when I asked him the questions. There was a flat affect and a distant look in his eyes," said Ocampo's attorney Randall Longwith.
Ocampo's father, who is homeless, said his son has been very troubled ever since he returned from Iraq in 2008. He said his son even warned him that a serial killer was on the loose and showed him press reports of the killings.
If convicted, Ocampo faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. His charges include a special circumstance of lying in wait, which makes the case eligible for the death penalty. Rackauckas said his office has not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty.
A motive for the murders remains unknown.