SANTA ANA, Calif (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran accused of killing four homeless men by stabbing them dozens of times each was charged on Tuesday with first degree murder in serial slayings that put transients on edge in Orange County, California.
Former U.S. Marine Itzcoatl Ocampo was charged with four counts of first degree murder and was eligible for the death penalty, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
"This 23-year-old man was a vicious killer," Rackauckas said. "He had it in his mind to kill people and followed through with that. He is a monster."
Rackauckas said his office had not yet determined whether to seek the death penalty in the sensational case, the first serial slayings in more than two decades to hit Orange County, a largely suburban area southeast of Los Angeles.
Ocampo was cornered and arrested on Friday night following the stabbing death of 64-year-old John Berry, who Rackauckas said was targeted after appearing in a Los Angeles Times article about the sensational case.
"We believe that the evidence is going to show that this defendant specifically sought out the victim for participating in this article," Rackauckas said.
"He relished media attention of the crime and he stalked his victim until he got his prey," the prosecutor said.
Rackauckas said Ocampo is accused of first killing 53-year-old James McGillivray on December 20, attacking him as he slept and stabbing him more than 40 times at a shopping center in the Orange County suburb of Placentia.
Eight days later the body of a second transient, Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, 42, was found under a freeway underpass, also stabbed more than 40 times.
Ocampo is also charged in the murder of 57-year-old Paulus "Dutch" Smit, who was stabbed more than 60 times behind the Yorba Linda Public Library. His body was found on December 30.
Rackauckas said all four of the victims were attacked with a 7-inch knife and that "in each of these cases the violence, the number of stabs wounds to each victim increased."
A Marine spokeswoman said Ocampo served in the Marines from July 2006 to July 2010 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Steve Gorman and Mary Slosson; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston