How Will Investigators Find Samantha's Killer?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, July 17, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:  We're back with more on the hunt for Samantha Runnion's killer and the clues left behind.  Joining us from Samantha's home town of Stanton, California, retired Orange County homicide detective Bernie Esposito.  In Pittsburgh is forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.  With me in studio is forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who's also the author of Dead Reckoning.  And also with us is Moses Schanfield, professor and chair of the Department of Forensic Science at George Washington University.

Welcome, gentlemen.  Dr. Baden, first to you.  Clues at the scene.  What would you be looking for?

DR. MICHAEL BADEN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST:  Be looking for any kinds of semen, hairs, fibers, blood, anything on clothing, anything on the body or in the body that have to be identified, preserved, collected and given over to the crime lab.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Dr. Baden, the body is obviously going to have an autopsy.  Tell us the gruesome investigative process in that autopsy.  What would you look for?

BADEN:  Well, the autopsy...

VAN SUSTEREN:  I'm sorry, Dr. Wecht.  I'm sorry.



WECHT:  Well, the autopsy apparently has been performed, I'm sure by a competent forensic pathologist, and they've determined that the death is due to asphyxiation.  I think that that means she was manually strangled or possibly garroted with a ligature.  I don't think they would have made that determination so quickly if it were smothering without physical injury.

The sexual assault obviously indicates to me, correlated with the statements that they're making very definitively and unequivocally that there is lots of forensic evidence.  It means to me that they have found semen.  The comment made by somebody, "Look for a man with injuries on the forearm" suggests that maybe they found blood.  So those are the biological things.  Possibly, they found hair.  And then, as Michael has said, maybe some fibers and some threads, and so on.  But these are the things that they've found.

I'm puzzled, Greta, by a few things.  The signature killing and the serial killing -- I don't know.  I don't know every crime in America, but what other little girls have been found raped and murdered?  I haven't read of any unsolved murders out there or around there.  There's one on trial now in Saddam.  Elizabeth Smart's body hasn't yet been found.  I hope she's alive.  Probably not.  So I'm puzzled, as I think you implied you are, as to what...

VAN SUSTEREN:  I'm -- oh, I'm -- I mean, I'm also puzzled, too.  But I mean, they brought in the profile unit of the FBI.  And I -- you know, and frankly, I like the old sort of scientific -- you know, the old-fashioned...

But Moses, to you.  This body, unfortunately, has a lot of clues.  If it's sexual assault, probably DNA in the bodily fluid, but also under the fingernails, right, if she struggled?

MOSES SCHANFIELD, FORENSICS PROFESSOR:  Definitely, it's possible there's tissue under the fingernails.  If, in fact, there's blood, foreign blood, suggesting there may have been a struggle, then certainly, there could be foreign tissue found under the nails.

VAN SUSTEREN:  What if -- Moses, what if there is the mixed blood?  Can you -- can you separate mixed blood to determine DNA that would be foreign to hers and her own?

SCHANFIELD:  Absolutely.  The power of the DNA technology we have now easily allows us to take apart mixtures, identify which component came from the child.  Normally, when we do fingernail scrapings, we're going to find mostly the individual's DNA, unless we can specifically tease out tissue.  So...

VAN SUSTEREN:  It sounds like, though, there'll probably be a lot of DNA in this case, especially if it's -- if there's bodily fluid.

Bernie, to you.  If you're the homicide detective who arrives on the scene, what exactly are you going to do at that scene when you see that body?

DET. BERNIE ESPOSITO, FORMER ORANGE COUNTY DETECTIVE:  Well, I think the first thing you really need to do is secure that scene and make sure that that scene isn't compromised by any outside influences, whether it be people or other elements that you can control.

And at that point in time, as the homicide investigator, you really begin to rely on your forensics experts.  They're going to come into the scene.  They're going to take photographs of everything as they find it.  Your forensic team is going to collect all of the evidence and begin to process that evidence.  And later the body is, of course, going to be removed for an autopsy.  And you'll attend the autopsy, and you'll be able to get a lot of information from the autopsy itself.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, please stand, gentlemen, for -- we're going to have a short break.  We'll be right back.



Now back to our top story, the hunt for Samantha Runnion's killer.  I'm back with Bernie Esposito in Stanton, California, Cyril Wecht in Pittsburgh, and here with me in studio, Michael Baden and Moses Schanfield.

Dr. Baden, the concept of profiler -- seems like the sheriff's very interested in talking to profilers.  Your thought?

BADEN:  I think that profiling is kind of a common-sense evaluation of a crime.  And I think sometimes it can be helpful, but it's really common sense of a police investigator who spent time looking at dead bodies, and that the people out in -- in this instance, have an awful lot, it sounds like, forensic evidence that's going to be much more important than any profiling.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Moses, what's the easiest thing about this case for forensic scientists, and the hardest thing?

SCHANFIELD:  Well, sometimes too much evidence is the hardest thing.  What do you analyze first?  The good news is we've got a lot to analyze.  So it's very likely that there will be a profile.  The question is whether or not you have one already on file, somebody to compare it to.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And when you talk profile, you mean, like, profile of DNA.

SCHANFIELD:  Yes.  In my case, I'm talking about...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Not a profiler.


VAN SUSTEREN:  A profile of a...

SCHANFIELD:  In my case, I'm talking about DNA profiling, so that there's -- there are many opportunities to obtain DNA profiles.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Dr. Wecht, I thought one of the chilling -- I mean, there's so many chilling pieces of information in this case, but something that I thought was particularly was disturbing was today the announcement that the young girl tied on Tuesday.  She's abducted on Monday.  How can they tell the time of death when they discover this body?

WECHT:  Yeah, I've wondered about that.  I heard a comment this evening that the murderer spent a couple of hours with Samantha.  Well, two things come to my mind.  Either they were visually spotted, and maybe someone, in retrospect, someone said, "Hey, I saw this guy.  I didn't realize who it was at the time," or "I didn't have time to call it in," or whatever.  And the only other way, biologically, that I can think of, is through gastric contents.  They know from the parents when she ate, what she ate.  And then they looked at the gastric contents.  And while that's not real specific, it can give you a range.  I can't think of any other way...

VAN SUSTEREN:  How much of a range?

WECHT:  Well...

VAN SUSTEREN:  How much of a range can you get from that?

WECHT:  Well, let's say, for example, she had scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, and then there's nothing in the stomach.  Well, you know that probably at least three to four hours have gone by.  Let's say you do find some eggs in there, and they're not well digested, so you're maybe talking an hour or two, partially digested, two or three -- something like that.

But I don't -- I'm very puzzled by this comment that he spent some hours with her.  I don't understand.  The body wasn't found soon enough for them to determine this.  And besides, the indicia that we use, the rigor mortis, livor mortis, alga (ph) mortis, body temperature -- none of that would tell you whether or not she was alive for a couple of hours.  And I -- I -- I'm just puzzled by some of the comments that I've heard.

VAN SUSTEREN:  I guess we'll have to -- I guess we'll have to hear more about it, so we learn more.

Bernie, to you.  Have there been unsolved child murder cases in that area?  Because the sheriff says that this may be a serial killer.  We've heard this in report.  Do you know of any unsolved cases out there?

ESPOSITO:  I'm not aware of any of this nature, Greta, at all.  This is a really brazen act by this particular perpetrator, and I haven't really heard of any that have happened here locally.  And there may have been some that have happened elsewhere in the country that I may not be aware of.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Bernie, they're also saying that they expect that he'll strike again.  Have you heard anything that would lead one to that conclusion, that he's likely to strike, anything at the crime scene?

ESPOSITO:  Well, I really have no information about the crime scene itself or what they may have found at the crime scene that leads them to believe that.  In this particular type of case, if you're talking about a sexual predator, of course, they have a sexual appetite, and that appetite needs satisfaction.  So that may be one of the keys that they're relying on, or at least banking on, that he may be ready to strike again when that particular urge strikes him.

VAN SUSTEREN:  You know, Dr. Baden, of all of the cases I ever handled, those who had sexual interest in children of some sort -- they never seemed to stop.  So in many ways, you know,, those are repetitive.  They do oftentimes go after...

BADEN:  They can be repetitive.  It doesn't sound like this person was very careful.  You know, as they get more and more repetitive, they get more and more careful about how they leave evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN:  But you say that wasn't careful.  Maybe it was just luck that it was found.  I mean, it sounds like a little bit of a remote area.  It was -- the body was discovered by people hang-gliding.  I mean, that almost seems like, you know, very good look.  When you compare that to the Chandra Levy case, where the body wasn't discovered for more than a year, so there were no clues -- I mean, you could -- you could say that that body was simply discarded.

BADEN:  Well, it could be, except the body was left, apparently, on the surface of the ground.  It wasn't buried, and it wasn't in a very bushy area to be covered up.  So I think that most child murderers only do it once.  They can do it multiple times.  And it's important to catch this fellow because he might do it again, but I think it's too early to say he's a serial murderer.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Bernie, you know, I'm almost suspicious -- and of course, the police aren't telling us because they want to fully investigate and they don't want to tip off someone who was involved in this crime.  I'm almost suspicious that if there wasn't some sort of note or something to taunt the police there because they seem to be so certain that this was an effort to be caught that the police were almost being taunted.  Do you think that's at all possible?

ESPOSITO:  Well, it certainly is possible.  There's been a lot of cases where that's happened, and it's something that certainly can happen again.  I'm not totally familiar with what he's done in this particular case that would lead the investigators to believe that.  But if you ask me if it's a possibility, it certainly is a real possibility.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Moses, body, we understand, is found naked.  No information on clothes.  If the clothes were found near the body or ultimately found sometime, what can the forensic scientists get from those clothes to help?

SCHANFIELD:  Again, possibility of DNA.


SCHANFIELD:  Certainly, hairs and fibers.  Fibers can link, as well, back to the vehicle and to the individual.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Is it -- Dr. Baden, is it almost impossible to commit this murder without leaving -- I mean, there's so many clues, it seems like, on this body.  There would have to be.

BADEN:  Yeah, it sounds like from what the Sheriff said, also, that there was no really -- real attempt to cover anything up.  It seems that there was a lot of evidence at the scene, including the semen, including evidence of...

VAN SUSTEREN:  But even if he did...

BADEN:  ... strangulation.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Even if he did try to bury the body, you still have the DNA from the sexual assault.  You still have probably under the fingernails.  You probably still have blood.

BADEN:  Yeah, but the longer it took to find the body, the more time that evidence would disappear.  So if this body were put in the water, in a river or in a bush, a tree area, bushy area, then...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Those clues might disappear.

BADEN:  ... those clues are much more likely to disappear.

WECHT:  Hey, Greta...

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, thank -- Dr. Wecht...


WECHT:  Oh, no.  That's OK.  I was just going to say that there may be some drugs involved here, too.  Think of this guy going into that community and openly and brazenly calling over to the girl, and so on.  So this guy is...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Who knows?  Unbelievable.

WECHT:  ... is out of control right now.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, thank you all for joining me. 

Click here to order the entire transcript of the July 17 edition of On the Record.

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