SANTA ANA, Calif. – Moments after factory worker Alejandro Avila was charged with murdering 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, the lead prosecutor in the case provided a stern assessment of the suspect's future if he is convicted.
"I do want to make one thing very clear," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference. "Anyone who commits an act like this in Orange County will either die in prison of natural causes or be executed. It is almost impossible to overstate the amount of damage this type of crime causes in our community and the entire nation."
Avila, of Lake Elsinore, was charged Monday with murder, kidnapping and two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child.
Prosecutors could seek the maximum punishment under special circumstances included with the charges: the murder occurred after a kidnapping and the crime involved lewd acts with a person under 14.
During a brief court hearing where Avila, 27, appeared by video from jail, no plea was entered and a judge ordered him held without bail. He was scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 9.
A decision on whether to seek the death penalty was expected within the next two weeks, said Rackauckas.
Avila's mother, Adelina, said Monday that she and her son were watching TV reports about the girl's disappearance and that she told him "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."
Details also emerged Monday 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.
The charges against Avila came one week after Samantha was snatched while playing with a friend outside her Stanton townhome complex. A man who said he was looking for a lost puppy carried her away while she was kicking and screaming.
The girl's nude body was found a day later. Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted and asphyxiated.
A description of the suspect from the playmate and tips from the public led Orange County sheriff's officials to Avila.
Authorities have said they are certain Avila is the man who abducted the girl, whose smiling face surrounded by curly brown hair has been shown repeatedly on newscasts.
"The evidence ... is very, very compelling. We are satisfied we have the right person and will be able to bring in a guilty verdict in this case," Rackauckas said. "The DA's office is not going to make any deal in this case."
Avila, who works at a plant that makes pacemakers and other medical devices, has denied any involvement with the girl's July 15 disappearance. He said he was shopping at a mall at the time of the abduction.