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Archive for Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Suspect charged in 5-year-old’s death

July 23, 2002

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— The factory worker arrested in the abduction and slaying of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was charged Monday with murder and other counts that could bring the death penalty.

The charges against Alejandro Avila came a week after Samantha was abducted kicking and screaming outside her apartment while playing with a friend. The girl's nude body was found a day later. Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

Avila, 27, was charged with murder, kidnapping and two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child. Prosecutors could seek the death penalty under special circumstances included with the charges: the murder occurred after a kidnapping and the crime involved lewd acts with a person under 14.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackackaus said no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty.

"I do want to make one thing very clear," he said. "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 appeared at the hearing via video from a jail. He did not enter a plea Monday and was ordered held without bail. He was scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 9.

Avila has denied in-volvement in the girl's disappearance, saying he was at a mall when she was kidnapped. Officials say DNA evidence found on the girl's body matches that of Avila.

Samantha was dragged off by a man who pulled up in his car and said he was looking for a lost puppy. A description of the suspect from the girl's 5-year-old playmate and hundreds of tips from the public helped lead to Avila's arrest.

In an interview Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Avila's mother, Adelina, said that before her son's arrest, she and her son were watching TV reports about the girl's disappearance, and "I said they should get that person and tie him up alive and burn him."

"And then he said, 'What about the electric chair?' And I said, 'No, because he's not going to suffer that much,"' she recalled.

Mrs. Avila added: "If my son is found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty, I could forgive him, but it would be hard."

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