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Marine vet charged with 4 counts of murder

January 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A 23-year-old Marine veteran was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, the Orange County district attorney announced on Tuesday.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said the charges include a special circumstance of lying in wait. If convicted, Itzcoatl Ocampo faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The special circumstance also makes the case eligible for the death penalty. Rackauckas said his office has not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty.

Ocampo was arrested Friday night after bystanders chased him after a fourth transient man, 64-year-old John Berry, was fatally stabbed. Berry was a well-known homeless man and a Vietnam veteran. He was killed next to a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Anaheim not far from the bench he used to sleep on near the Santa Ana River trail.

Before his death, Berry had been featured in an L.A. Times article about the recent killings. Rackauckas said Ocampo specifically sought out Berry because he was in the newspaper story.

"He relished the media attention of the crime. He stalked the victim until he got him; he got his prey," Rackauckas said.

Police say Berry filed a police report, concerned he was being stalked by a serial killer. But Berry's information made it to the homicide task force the day before his murder, and investigators never had a chance to talk to him.

"He expressed that he wanted to stay out on the street, and he could defend himself," said Anaheim Police Chief John Welter.

Authorities said all four of the victims were stalked, and at least three of the victims were stabbed more than 40 times. At the time of his arrest, Ocampo had blood on his hands and face, Rackauckas said.

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.

Authorities suspect the former Marine used a 7-inch blade knife during his killing spree.

"In each of these cases, the violence, the number of stab wounds of each victim increased," Rackauckas said.

Rackauckas said Ocampo also had additional victims already selected. A motive for the murders remains unknown.

The family of the suspect doesn't believe Ocampo is responsible, but admitted Ocampo became depressed after his friend, a fellow Marine, was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Rackauckas said during Tuesday's news conference that they do not believe Ocampo had a mental illness. He is expected to make his first court appearance in a Santa Ana courtroom on Wednesday morning.