[UPDATED with New Not Guilty Plea:] Itzcoatl Ocampo, Serial Killer Suspect, Accused of 6 Fatal Stabbings

UPDATE, FEB. 21, 11:40 A.M.: To give you the proper visual for this post, picture Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo at right with an al Qaeda beard. That's how he appeared in a Santa Ana courtroom this morning when he pleaded not guilty to the stabbing-murders of a mother, her son and four homeless men since Oct. 25, 2011.

How could the discharged Marine who was literally caught red-handed claim his innocence? His defense attorney explained his thinking to reporters outside court.

"I can tell you right now, he's cracked, he's ill, he's fractured. . . . he doesn't understand where he is or what his situation is," claimed Randall Longwith (via the Orange County Register).

And so, we have the makings of another not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity defense in assigned Judge Francisco Briseno's courtroom, just as District Attorney Tony Rackauckas predicted. A March 9 pre-trial hearing has been set.

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This was Ocampo's second not guilty plea, the first having come when he was arraigned or the murders of four homeless men since Dec. 20. The second plea became necessary when the Orange County Grand Jury indicted the 23-year-old last week for those murders and the slayings about a mile from his Yorba Linda home of a mother and her adult son last October. Several victims pinned on Ocampo were stabbed 30-40 times.

UPDATE, FEB. 16, 4:23 P.M.: The Orange County Grand Jury today indicted Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo for the stabbing-murders of a mother, her son and four homeless men since Oct. 25, 2011. The six felony counts of murder with special circumstances for multiple murders and lying in wait--plus sentencing enhancements for personal use of a deadly weapon, a knife, during the commission of a crime--make the Yorba Linda 23-year-old eligible for life in state prison without the possibility of parole or, possibly, the death penalty with a conviction.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty or convene a special panel within his office to recommended such a penalty.

In the meantime, Ocampo is to arraigned Tuesday in Santa Ana on the grand jury indictment, which will speed up justice because no preliminary hearing will be necessary. The young man is being held without bail.

UPDATE, FEB. 6, 4:22 P.M.: Federal immigration officials freed Eder Giovanni Herrera on his own recognizance.

"ICE's case review showed Mr. Herrera had not had any prior immigration enforcement encounters, nor did he have a criminal history, aside from the charges which were just dismissed," reads a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Herrera's immigration problems may not be over, however.

UPDATE, FEB, 6, 1:14 P.M.: Though Eder Giovanni Herrera has been released from custody for the murder of his mother, 53-year-old Raquel Estrada, and his 34-year-old brother, Juan Herrera, he has not been released from custody.

After Orange County sheriff's deputies cut loose the 24-year-old, he was immediately scooped up by federal immigration officials who are now holding Herrera in a detention facility. That means he's suspected of violating either an immigration law or another law that would warrant deportation proceedings.

Meanwhile, today's arraignment of Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo for allegedly murdering Raquel Estrada and Juan Herrera was continued to March 16. He, the victims and the former suspect all lived within a mile of one another in Yorba Linda.

UPDATE, FEB, 4, 10:01 A.M.: DNA evidence links accused serial killer Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo to the fatal stabbings of 53-year-old Raquel Estrada and her son Juan Herrera, 34--just as it clears Eder Giovanni Herrera of the same crimes, according to the district attorney. In announcing that new charges would be filed against 23-year-old Ocampo and dropped against Eder Herrera, 24, DA Tony Rackauckas explained what led authorities to suspect each former student of Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda.

Brea Police investigating the Oct. 25 murders of the mother and son in their Yorba Linda home had reason to suspect Herrera moved at least one body, placed the 9-1-1 call alerting cops to the murders and acted strangely in the hours afterward.

"At this point, we have not conclusively eliminated Mr. Herrera as a suspect in this case," Rackauckas said at a quickly arranged press conference Friday evening. "We will continue to investigate this case."

Here are specifics on why the DA's office filed double murder charges against Herrera on Oct. 27, according to Rackauckas:

"A witness saw a person he believed to be Herrera, dragging something from the front door threshold into the house. Based on blood evidence at the scene, it appeared that victim Juan Herrera had attempted to escape out the front door before being dragged back inside.

"There was no evidence of forced entry into the home.

"Herrera spent the evening driving around randomly with a friend. His behavior was suspicious. Law enforcement had evidence to believe that Herrera was in the area at the approximate time the 9-1-1 call was placed.

"Video surveillance from a CVS showed a person resembling Herrera walking past the CVS close to the time of the 9-1-1 call. The call was placed from a nearby pay phone. The person captured on video was wearing shoes with a distinctive pattern on the side that appeared to match those that Herrera was wearing at the time of his arrest.

"Herrera and his friend drove past Herrera's home and observed the police and crime scene investigation in front of the home.

"Herrera did not want to stop to check on his family. At the urging of his friend, Herrera called his brother and mother, but was unable to reach them on their cell phones.

"Despite these events, Herrera made no further effort to check on his mother and brother."
 
Spots found in the vehicle Herrera had been in could have possibly been blood from the murder scene that would have sealed his fate. With Herrera still in custody in lieu of $2 million bail, authorities were still awaiting findings from forensics about the spots when suspicions grew that Ocampo may also have been involved in the murders of the mother and son.

A rush was put on determining what the spots were, and it was ultimately found not be blood. Meanwhile, DNA evidence collected at the scene--and which authorities have not specified--links Ocampo to the murders, according to Rackauckas.

"This afternoon, we learned new evidence that led me to decide that we no longer have sufficient evidence to hold Mr. Herrera in custody," the DA said. "If he is indeed not culpable for these murders, I do not believe it would be right to keep him in custody over the weekend."

So, why still suspect Herrera of being involved at all? Besides the behaviors that led to his original arrest, Rackauckas noted that Herrera and Ocampo were friends at Esperanza and that they lived about a mile from one another at the time of the attacks.

That Estrada was stabbed more than 30 times and Juan Herrera more than 60 times was similar to the way four homeless men were fatally stabbed in North County since Dec. 20, the noted the DA, who added, "We made a significant DNA link to evidence collected at Ocampo's home" when it came to the mother and son murders.

As a result, Rackauckas' office will file two additional counts of murder Monday against former Marine Ocampo, who will now be charged with six felony counts of murder with special circumstances for multiple murders and lying in wait and sentencing enhancements for personal use of a deadly weapon, a knife, during the commission of a crime. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the new charges Monday in Santa Ana.

If convicted, Ocampo faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole, unless Rackauckas decides to seek the death penalty.

UPDATE, FEB, 3, 6:19 P.M.: Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas just announced that charges will be dropped against 24-year-old Eder Giovanni Herrera in the murder of his mother and older brother in Yorba Linda Oct. 25.

Those counts will now be filed against Itzcoatl Ocampo, the accused serial killer of four homeless men since Dec. 20.
 
UPDATE, FEB. 3, 4:36 P.M.: Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has scheduled a 5:45 p.m. news conference "to discuss updates in the case of defendant Itzcoatl Ocampo."

The DA, who may be joined at his Santa Ana office by representatives of the FBI and Anaheim Police Department--which heads up the multi-agency task force investigating the serial killings pinned on Ocampo--is expected to announce additional charges against the former Marine who was linked earlier today to the fatal stabbings of a mother and son in Yorba Linda.

See this post for details on a meeting Saturday to help people, and especially the homeless, cope with the serial killings blamed on Ocampo.

UPDATE, FEB. 3, 2:46 P.M.: The head of the multi-agency task force investigating the fatal stabbings of four homeless men blamed on Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo today confirmed something a prosecutor hinted at earlier in the week: that authorities have positively linked the former Marine to the Oct. 25 stabbing murders of 53-year-old Raquel Estrada and her 34-year-old son Juan Herrera. Anaheim Police Lt. Julian Harvey reportedly added that investigators are working with the district attorney's office to determine what additional charges should be filed against Ocampo.

That there was even a possible link between Ocampo and the slayings in the family's Yorba Linda home was previously divulged by Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy, who is prosecuting the son/brother of the victims, 24-year-old Eder Giovanni Herrera. But Harvey cautions the existence of evidence tying Ocampo to those murders does not let Herrera off the hook, as there is also evidence warranting his continued stay behind bars while currently facing murder counts, the Orange County Register reports.

Harvey did not disclose what exactly the evidence is linking Ocampo to the murders on Trix Circle. School records show Ocampo and Herrera may have crossed paths while students at Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda.

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 1, 5:28 P.M.: A pre-trial hearing was scheduled today for 24-year-old Eder Giovanni Herrera, who is accused of stabbing his mother and brother to death in their Yorba Linda home last October.

But now comes word that authorities are looking into whether Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo, the former Marine accused of being the recent serial killer of homeless men in Orange County, was involved in the murders on Trix Circle.
Veteran Orange County Register court reporter Larry Welborn gets the scoop. He quotes Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy, who is prosecuting Herrera, saying his office is "looking into" Ocampo being a suspect and/or whether the fellow Yorba Linda residents know one another.

"We've been aware of the similarities for some time," Gundy reportedly said of m.o.'s in the serial murders and the Trix Circle case, "and we have placed the highest priority on processing evidence from the Trix Circle crime scene. We are waiting for results from the DNA and other comparisons."

Around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 25, police received a tip that led them to the Trix Circle home, where the body of 53-year-old Raquel Estrada was found on the kitchen floor and the body of her 34-year-old son, Juan Herrera, was in the hallway. Both had been stabbed to death.

Police quickly settled on Eder Herrera as their suspect. He is accused of having fled the murder scene to spend the night at a friend's home. He was arrested the next morning, shortly after leaving that residence. His bail was later set at $2 million.

Currently, Herrera is charged with two felony counts of murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon. Conviction could put him away in state prison for 52 years. No motive for the attacks have been made public.

Herrera was already behind bars when the first of four murders pinned on Ocampo--the Dec. 20 slaying of James McGillivray in Placentia--occurred. Ocampo's continued arraignment on charges he fatally stabbed McGillivray, Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, Paulus Cornelius "Dutch" Smith and John Berry is scheduled for Feb. 17. The prosecutor in that case is Susan Price.

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