LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against the alleged "Skid Row Stabber" on Friday, closing a 40-year legal saga complicated by a jailhouse scandal, overturned convictions and a defendant who may have only months to live.
Bobby Joe Maxwell, who has been comatose since November, was released from police custody for the first time since 1979 on Friday morning, when Assistant District Attorney Robert Grace asked a judge to dismiss five murder charges against the accused serial killer.
"Forty years. Forty years," his sister Rosie Harmon said outside the courtroom in between sobs. "Finally."
The district attorney's handling of Maxwell's situation drew criticism from legal experts and civil rights advocates earlier this year, when it was revealed that prosecutors had yet to act on a request to dismiss the case despite his increasingly dire prognosis. Maxwell first fell into a coma after suffering a massive heart attack in late 2017, and nearly died while housed at L.A. County-USC Medical Center on July 4. Court records made public last month showed the chief physician of the jail ward believed Maxwell has less than six months to live.
Grace asked Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler to dismiss the case on compassionate grounds without prejudice Friday morning, meaning prosecutors still could bring Maxwell to trial if his health improves. Grace said he was glad to see the case come to a close, but he expressed concern for the victims' relatives.
"I do hurt for the family members of the victims because they had anticipated getting their day in court and now they're not going to be able to get that," he said.
Capt. Patricia Sandoval, an LAPD spokeswoman, said Friday the agency understood and agreed with the prosecution's decision to drop the case.
Police think a single serial killer dubbed the "Skid Row Stabber" killed 10 homeless men in downtown Los Angeles over several weeks in October and November of 1978. The slayings came at a time when the city already was reeling from serial predators like the "Hillside Stranglers," who preyed on women in 1977 and 1978, and another killer known as the "Skid Row Slasher" who targeted homeless men and was convicted of killing eight people years before the "Stabber" attacks began.
The "Stabber" victims were Jesse Martinez, 50; Jose Cortez, 32; Bruce Emmet Drake, 46; J.P. Henderson, 65; David Martin Jones, 39; Francisco Perez Rodriguez, 57; Frank Floyd Reed, 36; Augustine Luna, 49; Jimmie White Buffalo, 34; and Frank Garcia, 45.
In a statement issued Friday, Drake's daughter, Cindy Poulsen, said she and the relatives of the other victims had been denied justice.