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Skid Row stabber guilty in two deaths

By MICHAEL D. HARRIS

LOS ANGELES -- A janitor described as a devil worshipper seeking souls for Satan has been convicted of two of the 10 'Skid Row stabber' murders, which terrorized the city's mean streets in the winter of 1978-79.

But the jury acquitted Bobby Joe Maxwell of three slayings Thursday and said it was hopelessly deadlocked on the remaining five, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial on those charges.

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After a 9-month trial, it took the panel 25 days of deliberation to reach a verdict.

Maxwell, 33, was also found guilty of the special circumstance of multiple murder, making him eligible for the death penalty.

The same jury will now decide, in a penalty phase beginning July 17, whether he should die in the gas chamber or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Maxwell, a paroled robber from Tennessee, was convicted of the murders of Frank Garcia, 48, and David Jones, 39.

Most of the victims were transients who lived in the Skid Row area, but Garcia was a county custodian from East Los Angeles and Alvarez lived in suburban Culver City.

An eyewitness who placed Maxwell at the scene of the Jones killing on the steps of the central library. The witness, a transient, testified at Maxwell's preliminary hearing but was bludgeoned to death before the trial.

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Norris told jurors in his opening statement that Maxwell 'turned turned Skid Row into strewn bodies of the poor, the hopeless and forgotten of our society.'

The killings occurred four years after Vaughn Greenwood, dubbed the 'Skid Row Slasher,' cut the throats of eight Skid Row residents. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

After his arrest, Maxwell allegedly told another inmate he stabbed the 10 men to procure souls for Satan, and other inmates said they saw him perform Satanic rituals.

An entry in a diary found at Maxwell's home read, 'Praise be to the Prince of Darkness,' and a message scrawled on the wall of a downtown bus terminal bathroom read, 'My name is Luther. I kill winos. I put them out of their misery.'

A handwriting expert identified the writing as Maxwell's.

Superior Court Judge David Aisenson declared a mistrial on the deadlocked counts, and prosecutors said they will decide later whether to seek a retrial.

Norris said Maxwell began the string of slayings months after his parole from Fort Pillow prison in Tennessee, where he had served a term for armed robbery. He then moved to Los Angeles, where his two sisters lived.

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Maxwell was first arrested in December 1978 while standing with a knife over a derelict sleeping on a Skid Row sidewalk, but was released three days before the final slaying. Police kept him under surveillance and rearrested him in April 1979, after identifying his palmprint found near one victim.

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