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Archive for Saturday, July 23, 2005

Judge OKs death for child’s murderer

Avila was unfazed by mom’s testimony

July 23, 2005

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— More than three years after 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered, her mother on Friday confronted the man who killed her.

"I know she looked at you with those amazing brown eyes and you still wanted to kill her," Erin Runnion tearily told Alejandro Avila in court, before a judge formally sentenced Avila to death. "And I don't understand it, and I never will."

Avila, a 30-year-old former factory worker convicted in April, did not speak as Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg en-dorsed the jury's recommendation to im-pose the death penalty.

"For the temporary gratification of his lust, the defendant destroyed an entire family's future," the judge said. "He has forfeited his right to live."

Avila, sitting motionless and looking away, did not appear to be moved by Erin Runnion's outrage and grief.

Avila's formal sentencing ended a case that stirred an outpouring of anger and sorrow.

More than 4,000 people attended Samantha's funeral and then-Gov. Gray Davis ordered a statewide increase in the number of electronic billboards that flash information about a suspected abduction.

Avila grabbed a kicking and screaming Samantha as she played outside her Stanton home. Her nude body was found the following day in the mountains about 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.

Authorities said Avila killed her by pressing on her chest.

Avila was ordered to San Quentin state prison within 10 days.

His sentence automatically will be appealed.

David Brent, an assistant district attorney who tried the case, said he was satisfied that justice was done, even though "there's no joy that we're sentencing someone to death row."

A friend of Samantha's gave police officers a description of her kidnapper that produced a police sketch that resembled Avila.

Prosecutors used cell phone and bank records to show Avila's whereabouts, and DNA evidence later linked him to the crime.

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