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O.C. serial killer suspect changed after Iraq, woman says

February 22, 2012 |  7:08 am

OcampoA former Marine accused of fatally stabbing six people pleaded not guilty Tuesday as an acquaintance said Itzcoatl Ocampo's service in Iraq changed him.

Lydia Peralta of Placentia attended the court hearing, telling a reporter later: "We are also mourning a loss too, with our friend Izzy, knowing that his life is over. Any way you look at it, it's tragic."

Peralta said she considered Ocampo almost family. One of her daughters was a high school friend of the young man, and she remembers a "happy-go-lucky" teenager who would go to barbecues, often with something like a liter of soda in hand.

But when he came back from serving in Iraq in 2009, she said, he was different.

"He seemed troubled, like something on his mind," she said.

A full-bearded Ocampo, 23, wearing mustard-colored jail scrubs, appeared distraught and sometimes mumbled to himself. He is charged with six felony counts of murder with special circumstances for lying in wait and multiple murders. Prosecutors have not disclosed whether they will seek the death penalty.

Ocampo, accused of stabbing four homeless men to death from Dec. 20, 2011, to Jan. 13, was taken into custody after bystanders chased him from a Carl's Jr. parking lot where the fourth victim was attacked. Ocampo's arrest that night quickly spread a sense of relief among homeless people who had flocked to shelters during the serial killings.

Two weeks later, police announced a DNA link was discovered between Ocampo's clothing and an Oct. 25 crime scene a mile from his Yorba Linda home, where Raquel Estrada, 53, and her son Juan Herrera, 34, were found stabbed to death. The accusation freed Estrada's younger son, Eder Herrera, who spent four months in jail on murder charges.

Relatives of homeless victims James McGillivray, 53, and Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, 42, attended Tuesday's hearing in Santa Ana.

Middaugh's mother, Marie, 65, said she was there because she wanted to see Ocampo in person. But the sight of him made her sick, she said, because she could not comprehend how someone could have killed her 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pound son.

"He would have fought back," she said.

The morning her son was found on the Santa Ana River Trail, she was expecting his usual 7 a.m. phone call, then a visit to her Leisure World home.

"That morning, he didn't call," she said. "And I knew something was wrong."

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Former Marine Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, during his arraignment in Orange County Superior Court. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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