Families of BTK victims prepare to wait

Charlie Otero has waited 31 years for justice in the killings of his parents and two siblings.

He can handle a few more months.

Dennis Rader's trial date is set for June 27, but lawyers in the case say that because of the time it will take to prepare, they don't expect it to start until fall — at the earliest.

"Whenever the trial starts will be soon enough," Otero told The Eagle on Wednesday.

Otero, who speaks for his family on Wichita's BTK serial killer case, is looking forward to the time between now and the trial.

"It gives me a chance to put all this on the back shelf and get on with my life for a little while, without the stigma of BTK arising every day or two," he said. "I appreciate and look forward to that."

Otero said that being in Sedgwick County District Court during Rader's arraignment on Tuesday was a very tense moment, one with more emotion than he cared to describe.

Steve Relford, whose mother was killed by BTK in 1977, said Wednesday that he made brief eye contact with Rader in the courtroom.

"I really can't make a statement about how I felt because it might get me in trouble."

Had he acted on his feelings, he said, "I'd be sitting where he is right now."

He finds it hard to reconcile his feelings toward the serial killer who took his mother's life 28 years ago with the man who is now charged with his crimes.

"I expected some psycho-looking dude," Relford said. "He looked very upstanding and respectable."

More than a dozen relatives of BTK victims sat through the arraignment. They saw Rader stand silent when asked to enter pleas to 10 counts of first-degree murder. They watched as District Judge Greg Waller entered a plea of not guilty.

"It was very difficult to just sit there and not do nothing," Relford said. "I just wanted to jump up and rip his damn head off. It was very difficult."

Holding back was too difficult for Otero's younger brother, Danny. After District Attorney Nola Foulston told Rader, 60, that she intended to seek a sentence that would prevent him from having a parole hearing for 40 years, Danny Otero cried out:

"You won't last that long."

Foulston said after the hearing that she would tell family members to refrain from such comments in the future.

"We have court decorum," Foulston said. "We have rules. We ask individuals not to make comments inside the courtroom. And anyone who does, we ask them to not to do that again, or we ask — before the judge does — to not be in the courtroom. Because the judge will take them out."

Foulston said, however, that she understood how high emotions ran for family members, and how difficult it is to follow what can be a painfully slow pursuit of justice.

Victims advocates are available to help walk family members through the sometimes difficult process of postponed hearings, delayed rulings and contentious motions as a case makes its way to trial.

"I tell them to be patient," Foulston said of the victims' families. "I tell them that their day will come. And I tell them there are certain things that can happen. I can't sugarcoat anything."

Otero said he was grateful that Foulston's office helped him get to Wichita. His parole requirements would normally require him to stay in New Mexico.

He also said meeting other relatives of BTK victims was good for him.

"It was very heartening and good for my spirit," he said.