- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

STANTON, Calif. (AP) The district attorney said yesterday he is reviewing whether to seek the death penalty against the man arrested in the kidnap and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.
Alejandro Avila, 27, was expected to be charged today with abducting, sexually assaulting and strangling the girl. He was to appear at an arraignment in Santa Ana, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackackaus said he would meet with Samantha's family as well as Mr. Avila's attorneys as part of the decision.
"After I review what they have to say with my staff and also review the evidence, then I'll decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty," Mr. Rackackaus said on NBC's "Today" show.
California law permits prosecutors to seek the death penalty against murder defendants if special circumstances exist, such as the commission of another crime.
Funeral services for Samantha were pending. Late Saturday night, her mother, Erin Runnion, broke a long silence and met with well-wishers in the courtyard of the townhome complex where a massive memorial of flowers, candles, cards and toys had appeared.
"You are truly wonderful to us," she said, and warned people: "Take care of your babies. Take care of each other's babies."
Samantha was playing with a 5-year-old friend just yards from her home when a man claiming to look for a lost puppy carried her away kicking and screaming.
The swift arrest of Mr. Avila followed a massive effort by the police, press and public that began minutes after the first 911 call, Sheriff Mike Carona said.
Under the department's child-abduction emergency alert plan, a Southern California alert went out 10 minutes after the report that the girl had been snatched, he said.
"We were in everybody's front room, bedroom. People were seeing the task force number and we were getting thousands of calls. And it was those calls that led us to Avila," the sheriff said.


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