Suspect in Runnion case is charged with murder

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- The man 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.

The district attorney could seek the death penalty under special circumstances included with the charges. The special circumstances are that the murder occurred after a kidnapping and that the crime involved lewd acts with a person under 14.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackackaus Sunday said he would meet with the girl's family and the defense before deciding on whether to seek the death penalty.

Avila did not enter a plea Monday and was ordered held without bail. He was scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 9.

Avila has denied involvement in the girl's disappearance, saying he was at a mall when she was kidnapped.

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 about 2,000 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.

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