A man charged in a series of attacks in Los Angeles and Santa Monica that left four men dead and eight other people injured -- some of whom were homeless -- pleaded not guilty Thursday to capital murder and other charges, and indicated that he may want to settle his case without going to trial.
Ramon Escobar, 47, is charged with four counts of murder, eight counts of attempted murder and six counts of second-degree robbery stemming from the alleged crime spree between Sept. 8 and Sept. 24.
Shortly after one of Escobar's attorneys, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Rick Sternfeld, entered the not guilty plea on his behalf, the defendant addressed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gustavo Sztraicher.
"Your honor, can I take a plea right now?'' he said in a barely audible voice.
"No, not at this time,'' the judge responded.
When asked if he waived his right to a speedy hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial, Escobar told the judge, "Well, I'm not pleading not guilty. That's not the route that I'm taking right now.''
After the judge gave Escobar time to consult with his attorneys, the defendant eventually agreed that his next court date could be set for Jan. 16. Following the hearing, Sternfeld declined to comment on his client's remarks.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during a robbery, but prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Escobar, who remains jailed without bail.
Escobar was initially charged with a dozen felony counts, but prosecutors filed a half-dozen new charges, including a new murder count, in an amended complaint lodged just before his arraignment.
The newest murder charge stems from a Sept. 24 attack in Santa Monica on Jorge Martinez, 63. Escobar was initially charged with attempted murder in connection with that crime, but the charge was amended after Martinez died less than a week later.
He is also charged with the murders of two homeless men -- Kelvin Williams, 59, and Branden Ridout, 24 -- in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 16, along with the Sept. 20 beating death of Steven Cruze Jr., 39, of San Gabriel, under the Santa Monica Pier.
The attempted murder charges stem from attacks on eight other people, including two women, between Sept. 9 and Sept. 22.
The criminal complaint alleges that Escobar, who was arrested by Los Angeles police in Santa Monica on Sept. 24, used a baseball bat or blunt object during all but two of the crimes.
Detectives subsequently searched Escobar's SUV and seized a wooden baseball bat believed to have been used in the Sept. 16 attacks in downtown Los Angeles, and Santa Monica police found a pair of bolt cutters believed to have been in one of the attacks.
Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Billy Hayes said the attacks did not appear to be based on any hatred toward homeless people.
"I think it was a crime of opportunity,'' he said. "... It appears the motive in most of these cases was robbery.''
The police captain said Escobar was homeless himself, having recently arrived in the area from Texas in a 2004 black Honda CRV. He said Escobar arrived in the Southland on Sept. 5, less than a week before the attacks began.
Authorities said in September that Escobar was a person of interest in the disappearances in Houston of his aunt and uncle, Rogelio and Dina Escobar. Both went missing in late August, and police suspect foul play. Hayes said Escobar was questioned by police in Texas on Aug. 30, "and shortly after that it appears he fled the state of Texas.''
Escobar served five years in prison from 1995 to 2000 in Texas for some type of burglary, and has subsequent arrests in 2017 and earlier this year on suspicion of assault and criminal trespassing, Hayes said.