Prosecutor Seeks Death Penalty for Samantha Slay Suspect

Published August 06, 2002

| Associated Press

Saying the crime "shocked and outraged our community," prosecutors announced plans to seek the death penalty against the man accused of kidnapping 5-year-old Samantha Runnion from in front of her home and killing her.

Alejandro Avila, 27, is accused of dragging the girl away from a playmate after he asked her for help in finding his puppy. He is charged with murder, kidnapping and two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child.

Prosecutors can seek the death penalty under special circumstances included with the charges: that the murder occurred after a kidnapping, and that the crime involved lewd acts with a child.

"There is no question in my mind that the person who kidnapped, molested and murdered 5-year-old Samantha should face the death penalty," Orange County District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas told a press conference.

"This crime has shocked and outraged our communty, our nation, even other nations. If there was ever a case where justice would be served by seeking the death penalty, this is the case," he said.

The district attorney, in response to a question, said he would not consider a plea bargan under any circumstances.

Avila, held without bail at Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana, has denied the charges, saying he was at a mall when the girl was snatched. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

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

Her nude body was found the next day alongside a mountain highway between Orange County and the Riverside County community of Lake Elsinore. 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.

Orange County sheriff's officials have said they are certain Avila, who worked at a plant that makes pacemakers and other medical devices, is the man who abducted the girl. A source lose to the investigation confirmed that DNA evidence found on the girl's body matches that of Avila.

Meanwhile, the reward offered for the capture and conviction of the man who killed Samantha appears to have dwindled.

Published reports put the reward figure as high as $250,000, and the sheriff had officially reported that it was at least $160,000. It now stands at $100,000, with any additional money contingent on whether pledges made in the heat of the manhunt are fulfilled, Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Rewards of $50,000 offered by Gov. Gray Davis and by BP, the petroleum company that employs Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, still stand. The money will be distributed only after a court conviction.

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