Factory worker arrested in California girl's slaying

Saturday, July 20, 2002

STANTON, Calif. -- A factory worker acquitted of molesting two girls two years ago was arrested Friday in connection with the slaying of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, the youngster whose abduction sent a chill across Southern California.

Alejandro Avila, 27, had been taken into custody at his mother's apartment in Lake Elsinore, about 50 miles from Stanton and about 10 miles from where the body was found.

"I am 100 percent certain that Mr. Avila is the man who kidnapped and murdered Samantha Runnion," Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona said Friday about eight hours after announcing the arrest.

No charges were immediately announced against Avila but Carona said the case was "ready to be handed over to the district attorney's office."

An acquaintance said Avila was familiar with Samantha's apartment complex because he used to visit someone there a few years ago, before the Runnions moved in.

Samantha was playing with a friend 50 yards from her front door Monday evening when she was dragged kicking and screaming into the light green car of a man who had asked for help in finding his puppy.

Before his arrest, Avila denied any involvement in the slaying during an interview with the Los Angeles Times and said he told detectives that he was at a mall when Samantha was kidnapped.

He said detectives told him they had found fibers on the body they considered key evidence.

Two years ago, Avila was charged with molesting two girls under 14 but was acquitted by a jury, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Paul Dickerson said. He said he did not have details of the case.

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