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California winery worker convicted on 7 murder counts

A former winery worker was convicted of six counts of first-degree murder Tuesday for a wine-country killing attack that left seven people dead, including his wife and two young daughters. Defendant Ramon Salcido was found guilty of second-degree murder in the seventh slaying.

Salcido, 29, could be sentenced to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison when the jury returns for the trial's penalty phase. Under California law, multiple murder is one of the special circumstances that can justify a death sentence.

The panel apparently agreed with Sonoma County prosecutor Peter Bumerts that Salcido methodically crisscrossed the fertile Sonoma Valley north of San Francisco, stabbing and shooting his family and co-workers the morning of April 14, 1989.

"What this means for the families is perhaps one chapter of this horrible nightmare will be laid to rest," Bumerts said after the verdicts were read.

"I can't say I was delighted by it, but I wasn't shocked," said defense attorney Marteen Miller. "One way or another, I think this jury had its mind made up."

Salcido sat quietly as the verdicts were read in San Mateo County Superior Court. He also was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and cleared of one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter.

The jury deliberated Thursday, Monday and most of Tuesday.

First-degree murder convictions require proof of premeditation, and defense attorneys had urged jurors to opt for second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Although Salcido confessed to the crimes, his attorneys tried to save his life by portraying Salcido as mentally unstable and incapable of planning the slayings.

During the three-month trial, the defense tried unsuccessfully to show that Salcido had lost touch with reality and was suicidal when he committed the killings.

Miller argued Salcido was crazed because of a psychotic depression that was aggravated by a cocaine-and-alcohol binge just before the slayings.

According to testimony, Salcido began the killing frenzy after a night of bar-hopping. When he arrived home about 5 a.m., he was furious that his wife was gone.

He grabbed the couple's three young girls and drove to the county dump, where he slashed each child's throat and left the girls to die. Only one of the girls, Carmina, then 2, survived, telling investigators, "Daddy cut me."

Salcido's next stop was his mother-in-law's home, where he went looking for his wife and ended up fatally stabbing Marian Richards and her two daughters. When he returned home, Salcido fatally shot his wife, Angela, and headed for the Gran Cru Winery, where he killed his boss, Tracey Toovey.

Salcido also went to the home of his co-worker, Ken Butti, and shot at Butti and his wife, Terri, before fleeing. He hit Butti in the shoulder.

Salcido confessed to the crimes when he was arrested near his birthplace in western Mexico four days after the killings. He told investigators he was angry at his wife because she had hidden the fact that their oldest daughter was fathered by another man.

The taped confession was key evidence for the prosecution.

Prosecutor Bumerts scoffed at the defense contention that Salcido was suicidal, saying the killer stepped over bodies to bandage his finger, which he cut while stabbing a victim to death.

The trial was moved to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, because of pretrial news coverage in Sonoma County, where the crimes were committed.