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Delay in hearing over series of US homeless killings
SANTA ANA, California (AP) ' The latest homeless victim of a suspected U.S. serial killer filed a police report the day before he died, saying he feared he was being stalked. It was one of nearly 600 leads and tips that police received but didn't have a chance to follow.
"It is unfortunate that we didn't get to him before the suspect did," Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said.
Itzcoatl Ocampo, who will appear in court Wednesday, was arrested when witnesses chased him down after the homeless man was stabbed to death outside a fast-food restaurant, authorities said. They said he was caught with blood on his hands and face.
The Iraq War veteran was charged Tuesday with four counts of murder and special allegations of multiple murders and lying in wait and use of a deadly weapon. Three victims were stabbed more than 40 times each. If convicted, Ocampo faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. Authorities have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
Ocampo appeared in a jailhouse courtroom Wednesday, but his arraignment was postponed to Feb. 17 at the request of his attorney, who was not allowed inside the jail to speak with his client over the weekend after Friday's arrest and had met with his client only briefly.
Defense attorney Randall Longwith declined to comment on the allegations. He said Ocampo is being held in a mental ward.
"I walked in, he was curled up in a blanket," Longwith said. "He looked like a wet puppy dog."
Ocampo selected the last victim, 64-year-old John Berry, after he was featured in a Los Angeles Times newspaper story about the killing spree, prosecutors said.
"He was a monster," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference. "He was a terrible threat, particularly to the homeless people in our community."
Ocampo would stalk each victim, then stab repeatedly with a knife that could cut through bone, authorities said.
Authorities declined to say whether they had identified a motive. Rackauckas said he had no indication that Ocampo was mentally ill.
Ocampo's family said the 23-year-old was a troubled man after he returned from Iraq in 2008.
The killing spree began in December, prompting police and advocates to urge the homeless to sleep in groups or in shelters.
Veterans Affairs officials say such high-profile violence can paint an inaccurate picture of returning veterans. The cases, however, raise the issue of veterans having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.
A neighbor who is a Vietnam veteran and Ocampo's father both tried to push him to get treatment at a veterans hospital, but he refused. The father, Refugio Ocampo, said his son expressed disillusionment and became ever darker as he struggled to find his way.
After Ocampo was discharged in 2010, his parents separated. The same month, one of his friends was killed during combat in Afghanistan. His brother said Ocampo visited his friend's grave twice a week.
Like the men Ocampo is accused of preying on, his father is homelessafter losing his job and ending up living in the cab of a broken-down truck he is helping to repair.
Days before his arrest, Ocampo visited his father, warning him of the danger of being homeless. He showed him a picture of one of the slain men, his father said.
"He was very worried about me," his father said. "I told him, 'Don't worry. I'm a survivor. Nothing will happen to me.'"
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.