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Comatose and near death, alleged 'Skid Row Stabber' may finally gain freedom in decades-old serial case

James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Lying in a bed inside the jail ward at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, Bobby Joe Maxwell's head lolled to one side as his sister entered the room.

"Bobby. Bobby," she cooed softly last week as his eyes darted left to right, then up. She wasn't sure if he was reacting to her voice or just making what little random motions he could.

The 68-year-old suspect in a string of skid row killings was prone under a mess of tubes and wires, his wrists and ankles outfitted in braces to prevent bedsores. Maxwell has been comatose since December of last year, when he suffered a massive heart attack.

An obstruction to Maxwell's feeding tube nearly caused his death July 4, according to his relatives. Doctors say his condition will never improve, and a recent court filing warned that he may have only months to live.

Legal experts and Maxwell's loved ones have long questioned why the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has yet to drop its case against Maxwell, a comatose defendant who is likely to die before he could ever face a verdict.

On Thursday, prosecutors finally relented.

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In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, the district attorney's office said it will ask Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler to dismiss all charges against Maxwell at a hearing Friday morning, ending a 40-year legal odyssey that involved a jailhouse informant scandal, tossed convictions and a defendant who claimed he was innocent right up until the moment he lost the ability to speak.

Fidler previously declined a request for an interview through a court spokeswoman.

Maxwell has been jailed since 1979, when he was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department and accused of being the "Skid Row Stabber," a serial killer believed to have claimed the lives of 10 homeless men in downtown L.A.

A jury convicted Maxwell in two of the murders in 1984, during a trial that largely hinged on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed Maxwell confessed to the murders. Those convictions were later thrown out when it was revealed that the informant was part of a network of Los Angeles County jailhouse snitches who had been fabricating confessions in exchange for lighter sentences from prosecutors.

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