Accused Runnion Killer's Trial Begins

Investigators found DNA from the tears of a 5-year-old girl inside a car that belonged to the man now charged with her kidnap and murder, a prosecutor said Monday in the opening statements of the man's trial.

Assistant District Attorney David Brent (search) said investigators found DNA from Samantha Runnion's (search) tears on the inside door of Alejandro Avila's (search) car, as well as DNA evidence of an unspecified type on the car's center console.

Brent said the girl had more genetic evidence under her fingernails, but did not specify whose DNA it was.

"Samantha Runnion's DNA is in this car," Brent said, as he showed jurors a picture of Avila's green Ford Thunderbird.

The defense was expected to begin its opening statement later Monday.

Samantha was kidnapped on July 15, 2002, as she played with a friend outside her family's apartment. Her nude body was found a day after her disappearance in mountains some 50 miles from her Stanton home in Orange County.

More than 4,000 people attended her funeral and the case prompted California to immediately posts alerts on freeway signs whenever a child is abducted.

The girl's death came amid a string of incidents involving children, including the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam of San Diego and the abduction of 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Utah.

Avila, 30, has pleaded not guilty and has been in custody since his arrest three days after Runnion's death. He faces the death penalty if convicted of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering the girl.

Brent outlined the prosecution case against Avila on Monday, saying it would be based on witnesses, debit card and cell phone records, and DNA evidence.

When Brent mentioned the DNA from Samantha's tears, her mother, Erin Runnion, shielded her eyes with one hand and looked toward the ground.

Brent said a 6-year-old playmate of Samantha's who witnessed the abduction will testify that Avila walked up to the girls and asked if they had seen a Chihuahua puppy before grabbing Samantha, who screamed, struggled and yelled for help as she was dragged away.

The autopsy showed Samantha was sexually assaulted before she suffocated from force placed on her upper chest, Brent said.

He added that police found more than 50 still images and eight or nine videos of child pornography on a computer used by the Avila family at his mother's Lake Elsinore apartment, which was in the same complex where Avila lived with his sister.

In 2001, Avila was acquitted by a Riverside County jury of molesting two girls. Last month, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg said prosecutors could tell jurors hearing the Samantha Runnion case about the previous allegations and Brent said Monday that Avila's accusers from those cases would testify in the murder case.

Avila waived his right to a preliminary hearing and prosecutors have not publicly detailed their evidence, but they have listed more than 70 witnesses. The defense has listed about 60 witnesses.