is a convicted murderer who killed five-year-old Samantha Runnion in
California in July 2002. He was sentenced to death and is currently
imprisoned at San Quentin State Prison in California.
On July 15, 2002
in Stanton, California, five-year-old, Samantha Runnion was playing
a board game in the front yard of her home with her six-year-old
playmate Sarah Ahn. Avila, who was cruising the area, approached the
girls asking if they had seen his Chihuahua dog.
cared for animals and even owned a cat, approached the vehicle and
asked "How big is it?" Avila then snatched the girl, threw her into
the back of his vehicle, and drove off. Samantha kicked and
screamed, but Avila did not let her go. She screamed to her friend
"tell my grandma, tell my grandma". Her naked body was found the
next day in neighboring Riverside County. She was sexually molested
and posed almost as if the killer was showing off his work.
Sarah Ahn, the
only eyewitness to the abduction, provided a portrait of the
kidnapper. The drawing revealed a Hispanic male with a mustache,
slicked black hair, brown eyes, and between 25-35 years old. The
abductor drove a light green Honda.
On July 18,
investigators received a tip to look into Alejandro Avila, who had
been acquitted in 2001 of sexually molesting his ex-girlfriend's
nine-year-old daughter and her cousin. The police soon discovered
that Avila, who lived with his mother and sister, came home very
late the night Samantha was abducted and could not account for his
whereabouts. As the investigation continued, the evidence against
Avila became more damning.
According to court
documents, calls from Avila's cell phone were made in Samantha's
neighborhood on the day of her abduction. His bank card was used to
rent a motel room the same day; Samantha, who was kept alive for
several hours after the kidnapping, is believed to have been
molested and ultimately killed in that room. Avila's DNA was found
on Samantha's body, and her DNA was found in his vehicle.
Avila was formally
charged for Samantha's death July 23, 2002 and was held at the
Orange County Jail until his conviction in 2005.
2005 murder trial, the prosecution revealed an ongoing
conversation between Avila and another sex offender on the
file-sharing program Kazaa. The sex offender, who was not called
for the trial, is believed to have been in Europe. In the
conversation, Avila and the pedophile boasted about molesting
young girls. Both pedophiles agreed it was wrong to molest a
child related to onself, but okay if the child was a stranger.
time Samantha was found dead and Avila's arrest, the murder
received a lot of media coverage. Avila's mother, watching the
coverage, told Avila she hoped the murderer was soon caught.
Avila asked, "Do you think they should give him the death
penalty?" His mother's reply: "Yes."
Jury Convicts Alejandro Avila
In Death Of Samantha Runnion
Man Accused Of Killing 5-Year-Old Girl
April 28, 2005 - KNBC.com
Los Angeles -- Jurors
convicted Alejandro Avila Thursday in the 2002 death of 5-year-old
Avila, 30, was convicted of kidnapping, murder and two counts of
sexual assault. Jurors will decide in a separate penalty phase
whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison without
parole. Opening statements in the penalty phase were scheduled for
Samantha's mother Erin Runnion, in the front row of the courtroom,
cried silently as verdicts were read. She hugged prosecutor David
Brent as the jury left the courtroom.
She thanked jurors, law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and the
media during a news conference.
"I feel a tremendous sense of relief that
Samantha's fight was not in vain," Runnion said. "He is guilty,
guilty, guilty, guilty... and that feels really good because nobody
should get away with this."
As the first verdict was read, someone in the
audience said, "yes, yes." Avila bowed his head toward the defense
table but showed no emotion.
The evidence presented in a five-week trial
included DNA from Samantha collected from a small amount of a clear
liquid, which the prosecutor said was consistent with tears or
mucous, found on the inside of the door of Avila's car. Authorities
also collected a sample of DNA that matched Avila's genetic profile
from underneath Samantha's fingernails.
There were also cell phone and bank records that
placed the defendant in the area where the girl was abducted,
kicking and screaming, from outside her home in Stanton on July 15,
2002. Her body was found the following day in mountains some 50
miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.
Avila had been acquitted of molesting two girls
in 2001 in neighboring Riverside County, and authorities said they
believe he killed Samantha to avoid another such trial.
The slaying occurred amid a series 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
Runnion also delivered an impassioned message
Thursday to criminals who victimize children.
"How many children do we have to take away before
we as Americans get organized?" Runnion said. "We outnumber you so
many times over there is no excuse, and we're not going to let you
get away with it any more. We're going to organize our neighborhoods
and we're going to talk to our children. We're not giving you an
opportunity to prey on our children anymore."
More than 4,000 people attended Samantha's
funeral. In the wake of her death, then Gov. Gray Davis ordered a
statewide expansion of child abduction alerts posted on electronic
billboards along freeways.
Additional evidence presented at Avila's trial
included a description of Samantha's abductor provided by an 8-year-old
friend, which led to a police composite sketch that strongly
resembled Avila. Police also found sneaker prints similar to those
worn by Avila and tire prints like those from his car in the area
where the girl's body was found.
Defense attorney Philip Zalewski claimed the DNA
from the fingernails was not reliable because it was not properly
collected or analyzed and he suggested that the sample found in the
car was planted by investigators -- an allegation strongly denied by
Zalewski noted inconsistencies in the witness
testimony and called the rest of the evidence a "weak,
circumstantial case." Avila, he said, couldn't have committed the
crime within the timeline established by investigators.
Deputy District Attorney Brent, noting that child
pornography was found on Avila's computer, said the defendant is a
pedophile who killed Samantha because he did not want to go through
another trial like the one in which he was acquitted in 2001.
One of the girls he was acquitted of molesting
had lived with her father at the same apartment complex as Samantha
though she had moved several months before the abduction.
Despite the acquittal, Orange County Superior
Court Judge William Froeberg allowed testimony in the murder trial
from the girls in the 2001 case along with a third who claimed Avila