SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A California man who was once known as the nation's worst serial killer was again denied parole Monday after he admitted his guilt for the first time before the parole board.
Juan Corona said he murdered and mutilated 25 farmworkers four decades ago because they were trespassing in the orchards north of Sacramento, said Sutter County Assistant District Attorney Jana McClung.
Parole officials decided Corona can try again in five years, McClung said after the two-hour hearing. It was Corona's seventh bid for parole from Corcoran State Prison.
Corona previously made incriminating statements to a prison psychologist.
However, "this is the first time that I'm aware of that he made that admission to the full board. He said it was trespassing and they were winos," McClung said. "He just doesn't seem to realize that what he did was wrong."
Corona, 77, has been diagnosed with dementia and mental illness.
No family members of his victims attended the hearing. Prosecutors said Corona targeted victims who had few relatives and likely wouldn't be missed.
"We have had no contact with survivors for two decades now," District Attorney Carl Adams said before the hearing. "The people who he killed were farm laborers who were itinerant. Most of them didn't have relatives who could be contacted back in the `70s at the time of trial."
Four of the bodies have never been identified. The bodies of 14 of Corona's victims were never claimed by family members after they were discovered in 1971.
Corona, a farm labor contractor with a history of mental illness, was convicted of stabbing the men, hacking open their heads and burying their remains near Yuba City, 40 miles north of Sacramento.
He told the parole board he stabbed his first victim with a kitchen knife, shot his second, and killed the rest with a machete, McClung said. However, there is no record of any of his victims being shot, she said, raising questions about whether there was another possible victim or if the shooting was a product of Corona's fading mind.
"He got a five-year denial. ... Part of it was because he at least discussed some of the underlying facts with regard to the commitment offense," said his attorney, Leon Harris III of Bakersfield, declining further comment.
Corona walked unaided into the hearing, but his dementia was evident during his comments, McClung said.
"He was a little bit all over the road," she said. "He did start rambling a little bit."
Corona's first conviction in 1973 was overturned on appeal, but he was convicted again in 1982 and sentenced to 25 concurrent life sentences. He was not eligible for the death penalty because California's capital punishment law had been ruled unconstitutional at the time.
It was the most deadly killing spree in U.S. history, until John Wayne Gacy Jr. was convicted in 1980 of murdering 33 young men and boys in his Chicago home. Gacy was executed in 1994 in Illinois.
Investigators found a machete, a meat cleaver, a double-bladed ax and a wooden club, all stained with blood, in Corona's home, along with a ledger book containing the names of seven of the victims.
Corona is a Mexican national and native of Jalisco, Mexico.
His attorney argued that his age and lack of recent violent acts means he should be paroled, said McClung, who countered that his dementia and apparent lack of understanding and remorse means he is still dangerous.
"The concern could be, would he go out and do this again, because he doesn't seem to have an understanding of what he did the first time," she said.