Avila Charged With Murder, Kidnap in Samantha Slaying

Alejandro Avila, the California man police say kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, was charged Monday with murder and other counts that could land him on death row.

Avila, 27, was charged with murder, kidnapping and two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child.

Avila's arraignment, originally scheduled for Monday afternoon, was continued to Aug. 9. He did not enter a plea and was ordered held without bail.

Prosecutors filed charges one week after Samantha was snatched kicking and screaming outside her apartment while playing with a friend. The little girl's nude body was found in a forest clearing one day later; investigators said she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

The district attorney could seek the death penalty under special circumstances included in the complaint, which contains few details.

The special circumstances were added because the murder occurred after a kidnapping and because the crime involved lewd acts with a person under the age of 14, according to the complaint.

District Attorney Tony Rackackaus had said he would meet with Samantha's family as well as Avila's attorneys before deciding whether to seek capital punishment.

"After I review what they have to say with my staff and also review the evidence, then I'll decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty," Rackackaus said on NBC's Today show.

Avila's mother, Adelina, said earlier in the day that she and her son were watching TV reports about the girl's disappearance and that "I said they should get that person and tie him up alive and burn him."

"And then he said, 'What about the electric chair?'" she told ABC's Good Morning America. "And I said no because he's not going to suffer that much."

Mrs. Avila added: "If my son is found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty, I could forgive him, but it would be hard."

Samantha was abducted July 15 as she played near her home with a 5-year-old friend. A man who said he was looking for a lost puppy carried her away kicking and screaming and drove off with her in his car.

The little girl's body was found the next day alongside a highway between Orange County and Lake Elsinore, where Avila lived.

A description of the suspect from the playmate and nearly 2,000 tips from the public led Orange County sheriff's officials to Avila.

The suspect has denied involvement with the girl's disappearance, saying he was at a mall when she was kidnapped.

But DNA evidence found on Samantha's body matches Avila, police sources have confirmed to Fox News.

Orange County Sheriff spokesman Jim Amormino would not confirm or deny the report, but said authorities have evidence linking Avila, who was arrested Friday, to the crime.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times before his arrest, Avila said detectives took a sample of his blood and photographed a scratch on his leg.

Earlier Monday, details emerged about Avila's past. His father apparently went to jail for killing his neighbor in a dispute that may have been racial. And his brother was apparently shot in the back of the head and killed in Mexico.

Funeral services for Samantha were pending. Late Saturday night her mother, Erin Runnion, broke a long silence and met with well-wishers in the courtyard of the townhome complex where a massive memorial of flowers, candles, cards and toys has appeared.

"You are truly wonderful to us," she said, and warned people: "Take care of your babies. Take care of each other's babies."

The swift arrest of Avila followed a massive effort by the police, press and public that began minutes after the first 911 call, Sheriff Mike Carona said on Sunday.

Under the department's child-abduction emergency alert plan, a Southern California alert went out 10 minutes after the report that the girl had been snatched, he said.

"We were in everybody's front room, bedroom. People were seeing the task force number and we were getting thousands of calls. And it was those calls that led us to Avila," the sheriff said.

Fox News' Adam Housley and the Associated Press contributed to this report.