Suspected Rail Killer Goes on Trial

Monday, May 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) — Last summer, drifter Angel Maturino Resendiz became the focus of an international manhunt in the wake of nine slayings police say he committed as he rode freight trains across the country.

Today, the rail-riding drifter was to go on trial for the death of a Houston-area physician in December 1998. If convicted, he faces not only the death penalty but also the prospect of having to answer for the eight other killings.

``I don't want to overwhelm the jury with all these capital murders, but I still want to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt,'' said prosecutor Devon Anderson, who intends to present evidence from the other cases during the punishment phase if Maturino Resendiz is found guilty.

The Mexican drifter is suspected of killing six people in Texas, two in Illinois and one in Kentucky from 1997 to 1999. The slayings all took place near train tracks. He surrendered 23 days after he was added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list last summer.

Prosecutors say they have such physical evidence as fingerprints and DNA samples linking Maturino Resendiz, 40, to the robbery, rape and murder of Dr. Claudia Benton in her home. In addition, Maturino Resendiz's wife turned in jewelry he is suspected of stealing from her home.

``There is good, hard physical evidence that will be difficult to refute,'' said police Sgt. Ken Macha.

Maturino Resendiz's attorneys were preparing an insanity defense but the defendant told a judge he didn't want to use it.

Maturino Resendiz had refused to chat with a court-appointed psychiatrist until state District Judge Bill Harmon threatened to limit use of the insanity defense if he continued to resist.

That led to a six-day delay, pushing the start of opening arguments from May 2 until today to give the psychiatrist time to finish a written report on Maturino Resendiz.

Last week, defense attorneys Allen Tanner and Rudy Duarte filed a second change-of-venue motion that's expected to be considered before testimony begins.

The first venue change request came in December at the urging of Maturino Resendiz, who wanted the trial moved to Waco because he said he felt kinship with the Branch Davidians. He dropped the request when Harmon told him he had no say in where the trial would end up.

Maturino Resendiz has complained the prospect of lethal injection violates the humane treatment that his family had requested when he gave up after a six-week international manhunt, culminating with his surrender to a Texas Ranger on a remote border crossing between Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

Tanner said his client expected to be treated as he might have been in Mexico, which has no death penalty. ``That was his understanding, and his family's understanding,'' Tanner said.

Testimony initially was expected to focus on Benton, who was researching a rare genetic disorder known as Angelman syndrome at the Baylor College of Medicine. She was home alone because her husband and twin daughters were out of state.

``If it's one thing I've learned, juries are unpredictable,'' Anderson said before the judge last week imposed a gag order in the case. ``I think we have a good case, but I'm not taking anything for granted.''