- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

LOS ANGELES Prosecutors were preparing their case yesterday against a 27-year-old Southern California man after reportedly finding his DNA in samples taken from 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was kidnapped and killed this week.
Alejandro Avila, a factory worker acquitted in 2000 of molesting two 10-year-old girls, was arrested Friday and taken into custody by police at a motel about 10 miles from the two-lane mountain road where Samantha's bruised and naked body was discovered earlier this week.
DNA evidence found on the body of Samantha matches the man arrested in her killing, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, citing police sources it did not identify.
Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, would not confirm or deny the report yesterday but said authorities have evidence linking Mr. Avila to the crime.
"We are 100 percent sure we have the right man based on circumstantial, physical and forensic evidence," Mr. Amormino said. "Forensic testing has confirmed our initial suspicion. DNA is a component of forensic testing."
On Friday, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona said at a news conference, "I am 100 percent certain that Mr. Avila is the man who kidnapped and murdered Samantha Runnion."
In a telephone interview with the newspaper early Friday before his arrest, Mr. Avila said detectives told him they found fibers on the girl's body that linked him to the killing.
But he denied any involvement in the kidnapping and slaying, and told the newspaper he was shopping at a mall at the time of the kidnapping.
Police said they had a great deal of evidence against Mr. Avila that they would not yet reveal but expected that Orange County prosecutors would file kidnapping, murder and possibly other charges against him in the coming days.
If Mr. Avila is charged with murder under special circumstances and convicted at a jury trial, he could be eligible for the death penalty under California law. Authorities have not publicly addressed that possibility.
The abduction of Samantha on Monday in daylight as she played a board game with a 5-year-old friend shook the quiet community of Stanton, in Orange County, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, and hit home for many in the United States, where the kidnappings of two other girls have dominated the news.
On Feb. 1, 7-year-old Danielle van Dam vanished from her canopied bed in the quiet San Diego suburb of Sabre Springs. After an anguished search of three weeks, her badly decomposed body turned up on the side of a road.
On June 5, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Utah bedroom at gunpoint witnessed by her younger sister, Mary Katherine and has not been seen since.
Samantha's kidnapping was witnessed by her 5-year-old friend, Sara, who gave police a description of the man who grabbed her friend after pretending to look for a lost puppy and then sped off with Samantha. Detectives used a composite sketch of the kidnapper created from Sara's account in tracking down Mr. Avila.
"I have got to thank Sara," Sheriff Carona said. "She is an incredible witness. She has been magnificent all through this. She made the comment the other day that she was not sad anymore because she knows Samantha is in heaven."
Police were alerted to Mr. Avila by his former girlfriend and the manager of his apartment complex, who said she noticed he was closely examining his car, a green Ford Thunderbird, in the days after Samantha's death.

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