SANTA ANA, Calif. – A convicted rapist who could face the death penalty in five alleged serial killings from the 1970s presented "The Dating Game" defense Tuesday during a surreal court session in which he questioned himself on the witness stand.
Rodney James Alcala, 66, who is acting as his own lawyer, played a clip from an episode of the game show that he won in September 1978 in an attempt to prove his innocence in one of the killings.
Alcala told jurors they could see a flash of two gold ball earrings in his double-pierced left ear as he gives the game show's signoff salute.
Prosecutors believe a pair of gold ball earrings found in a red pouch in a Seattle storage locker rented by Alcala belonged to the youngest of the alleged victims, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe of Huntington Beach, in Orange County.
But Alcala told jurors the clip proves he owned the earrings almost a year before Samsoe's disappearance on June 20, 1979. In the segment, he can be seen dancing to the closing music while wearing a black bell-bottom pantsuit and open-necked white shirt.
"You'll see my hair go up over my left ear, and you'll see a little flash of gold," he told jurors before playing the segment. "You need to look closely, but there are two little specks there."
Alcala, a photographer and UCLA undergraduate with a purported IQ between 160 and 170, made the highly unusual decision to represent himself in the potential death penalty trial and took the stand in his own defense.
During an often bizarre day of testimony, the defendant referred to himself as Mr. Alcala as he posed questions and then responded with long and sometimes rambling answers. Prosecutors will begin their cross-examination Wednesday.
As family members of the victims watched, Alcala asked himself about everything from a dozen different hair styles he wore in the late 1970s to his decision in 1978 to double-pierce his left ear and buy the earrings.
At one point, Alcala explained he could use hair gel and a towel to straighten his long, curly hair but also had worn it in a teased-out Afro before his arrest.
Prosecutors maintain that he straightened his hair, then cut it after Samsoe's disappearance so he would not be recognized as the person in a police sketch.
"OK, Mr. Alcala, let's move on to ... let's talk about your earrings," he said to himself.
Alcala went on to testify that he bought gold ball earrings with a dangling chain in 1978 then clipped off the chain.
"I went to the club and, to make a long story short, I got kind of embarrassed because it looked kind of feminine," he answered. "So, when I went home, I cut off the dangle."
Samsoe's brother, Robert Samsoe, said outside court that he was disgusted to see Alcala get so much attention.
"He's just trying to confuse them. He thinks he's so smart that if he throws one thing of doubt in there, it's going to get him off," he said. "It's his grand show."
Alcala has been sentenced to death twice for Samsoe's slaying, but both convictions were overturned.
He was charged with killing four Los Angeles County women between 1977 and 1979 after prosecutors alleged DNA testing in 2005 linked him to those crimes. It's the first time Alcala has been tried in those cases.
He has pleaded not guilty to all counts and denied special circumstance allegations of murder in the commission of rape, torture and burglary.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno rejected Alcala's bid at self-representation, but an appeals court ruled it was his constitutional right.
Samsoe disappeared while riding her friend's bike to a ballet class in Huntington Beach in Orange County. Her body was found 12 days later in Angeles National Forest. Investigators were not able to determine the cause of death or if she had been sexually assaulted because of the condition of the remains.
Alcala maintains he was at an amusement park applying for a photo job when Samsoe was killed.
During the monthlong trial, he has focused almost entirely on Samsoe and told the judge he would not testify about the other four murders when he took the stand Tuesday.
All the adult victims in the case were raped and strangled — some so forcefully that the blood vessels in their eyes burst and bones in their throat and jaw broke, prosecutors have said.
Alcala's first conviction in the Samsoe case was overturned after the state Supreme Court found that allowing evidence about Alcala's previous record of rape and assault on young girls improperly prejudiced the jury.
His second conviction was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that his attorneys hadn't presented evidence of an alibi or developed other evidence.
In addition to Samsoe, Alcala is charged with killing Jill Barcomb, 18, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Oneida, N.Y.; Georgia Wixted, 27, of Malibu; Charlotte Lamb, 32, of Santa Monica; and Jill Parenteau, 21, of Burbank.