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Michigan drifter pleads guilty to transient killings

By
LINDA RAPATTONI

LOS ANGELES -- A drifter from Michigan pleaded guilty Friday in the midst of jury selection for his trial to fatally stabbing six homeless people and trying to kill two others, mostly in Koreatown.

Joseph Danks, 27, entered his plea in exchange for the District Attorney's Office dropping its special circumstance allegations that would have made Danks eligible for the death penalty if he was convicted.

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Superior Court Judge Raymond Mireles set the sentencing date for Dec. 23.

All of the victims were male and were stabbed in the back, said Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden. All but the first victim, killed Christmas Eve 1986 in Santa Monica, were attacked in and around Koreatown, although none was Korean, he said.

The Koreatown killings occurred between Jan. 6 and Jan. 20, 1987.

Dank had admitted in tape recordings to having killed the transients and told police 'he does not like' homeless people who he called 'bums,' even though he himself was a transient, Deputy District Attorney Norman Shapiro said when he filed the charges against Danks.

Darden, who prepared the case against Danks, said Danks told a psychiatrist why he killed the transients, but declined to give the reasons, saying the files still were confidential.

The prosecutor said there were several psychiatric reports filed on Danks, whose last home was in Gaylord, Mich., that dated back to 1977.

Danks' public defender offered to plea bargain back in March 1987, but Darden said he was not prepared to discuss it then because he had not reviewed the psychiatric reports.

At one point during court proceedings, Dank attacked his public defender with a knife made from a toothbrush and razor blade and inflicted minor injuries on the lawyer.

Darden said he believes it was in the public's interest to accept the plea that would put Dank behind bars for life rather than risk a sentence that might have allowed Dank back out on the streets.

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