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xx Defense presents its case in kidnapping-murder tri
« Reply #30 on: Apr 11th, 2005, 07:58am »

SANTA ANA, Calif. The defense is scheduled to begin presenting its case today in the trial of Alejandro Avila.

The factory worker is accused of kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in one of Southern California's most notorious crimes in recent memory. The girl was snatched while playing outside her Stanton home in July 2002, and her body was found the next day in the mountains.

The prosecution rested its case last week after presenting D-N-A and computer evidence, cell phone records and witness testimony over a two-week period.

Defense attorneys have suggested that D-N-A evidence may have been planted in Avila's car.

He faces the death penalty if convicted of the crimes.
http://www.kesq.com/Global/story.asp?S=3192182
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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #31 on: Apr 13th, 2005, 2:13pm »

The defense of the suspect in Samantha's abduction and murder tried to call the DNA evidence trivial and called forth witnesses who testified that they couldn't hear anything like a struggle from avila's hotel room. The fact that his mother testified that he was supposed to cook dinner that evening instead of booking into a hotel was apparently not addressed.

http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/04/13/news/californian/23_06_114_12_05.txt
http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/Stories/0,1413,206~24533~2813203,00.html
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xx Confident prosecution finishes Avila case early
« Reply #32 on: Apr 14th, 2005, 7:12pm »

By Diane O’Malley

Orange County prosecutor David Brent concluded his case against former Lake Elsinore resident Alejandro Avila, 30, last Tuesday after three weeks of evidence including testimony from 35 witnesses. In the last stage of the assistant district attorney’s presentation, a forensics expert from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police compared the footprint found at the crime scene on the mountain road where 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was found off the Ortega Highway with the similarities of Avila’s right foot. Avila is accused of Samantha’s abduction on July 15, 2002, sexual assault and murder. Orange County Sheriff forensic specialist Matt Johnson testified that tire tracks found at the scene could have been made by Avila’s Ford Thunderbird, which he was driving that night. Examination of the shoe prints in the same location were similar to those made by Fila running shoes that prosecutors say were worn by Avila the night of Samantha’s abduction. The prosecution connected the dots for the jury by presenting a surveillance camera videotape showing a man the prosecution say was Avila wearing white tennis shoes similar to Fila sneakers at an Arco gas station. Johnson testified that a search of Avila’s residence and his mother’s home turned up two Fila shoeboxes but the shoes were never found. He also said that shoe prints at the murder scene matched the prints a Fila sneaker would make. Assistant District Attorney Brent also followed Avila’s locations on July 15 and July 16 though cell phone records and ATM activity, including a withdrawal at a local Bank of America. Sheriff investigators reenacted his movements from the Lake Elsinore branch withdrawal at 5:18 p.m. and arrival at Samantha Runnion’s Stanton home in time for the 6:30 p.m. abduction. Defense attorneys had disputed that the distance could be traveled in the allotted time. More evidence from Avila’s computer, which contained graphic child pornography material, was introduced. Photographs, 14 mini-films and pornography Web links were also found on the hard drive of the computer, according to former Orange County Sheriff’s investigator James Vaughn, who struggled during his testimony and was assisted by prosecutor Brent to describe the pornographic images involving children. During cross-examination, defense attorney Denise Gragg suggested that the pornographic material was the result of a Trojan-horse virus found on the computer or invasive pop-ups. Satisfied with his case, Brent opted not to introduce additional DNA evidence that was the subject of several pre-trial hearings in February and would have lengthened the prosecution’s case by another month. Originally, the trial was estimated to take four months with more than 70 witnesses on the prosecution’s list and over 60 witnesses slated for the defense. Avila’s defense is expected to begin Monday.
http://www.temeculavalleynews.com/story.asp?story_ID=1864
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xx Jurors sent home early
« Reply #33 on: Apr 19th, 2005, 07:37am »

By LISA O'NEILL HILL / The Press-Enterprise
The Orange County judge presiding over Alejandro Avila's capital murder trial expressed frustration with Avila's attorneys Monday over delays in the case.

Judge William Froeberg excused jurors after less than 45 minutes of testimony. Prosecutors complained that Avila's attorneys had not given them time to look at data from defense DNA witnesses, scheduled to testify next.

"We're being ambushed right now. It's not fair," Assistant District Attorney Dave Brent told Froeberg.

He and prosecutor Camille Hill said Avila's attorneys had handed them a report minutes earlier.

Froeberg agreed, calling the episode a "gross waste of everyone's time."

He ordered Avila's attorneys to give the information to prosecutors by early afternoon and dismissed jurors until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Deputy Public Defender Phil Zalewski declined to comment after the proceeding.

Avila, 30, of Lake Elsinore, is charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Samantha Runnion, who was snatched outside her Stanton home on July 15, 2002 -- days shy of her sixth birthday. If convicted, Avila could face the death penalty.

Initially, the case moved faster than the judge and others expected. Brent questioned more than 35 witnesses over seven days. But the case stalled last week when a defense expert became ill.

Froeberg apologized to the jury on Monday and said, despite the delays, the trial is ahead of schedule.

He told the panel he was doubtful testimony would be finished this week but said he expected jurors would begin deliberating next week.

Today, Avila's attorneys are expected to bring their DNA experts to the stand to again attack DNA evidence that prosecutors say proves Samantha was in Avila's car.

Avila's attorneys have suggested the DNA was planted.

http://www.pe.com/breakingnews/local/stories/PE_News_Local_P_avila19.a1923.htmlTEXT
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xx Defense continues hammering at DNA in Avila case
« Reply #34 on: Apr 20th, 2005, 05:01am »

By: JOHN HALL - Staff Writer
SANTA ANA ---- The battle over DNA evidence in the trial of accused child-killer Alejandro Avila continued Tuesday as the defense pounded at the credibility of the DNA testing and analysis.

The prosecution has defended the tests and results a number of ways, including attacking the credibility of defense experts.

Prosecutors say DNA evidence collected from under fingernails of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion's left hand help prove that the Lake Elsinore man is guilty of murdering the little girl.


Samantha was grabbed from near her mother's Orange County townhouse the evening of July 15, 2002. Her nude body was found the next day off Killen Trail, near Ortega Highway west of Lake Elsinore.

Avila, 30, was arrested July 19, 2002, and has been charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Samantha. If convicted, Avila---- who was a Temecula factory worker when arrested ---- faces the death penalty.

Jurors were told Tuesday the defense could conclude its case today. The prosecution would then have an opportunity to present rebuttal witnesses, which prosecutors say they will. Closing arguments in Avila's trial could begin next week.

Tuesday was the third day in which Avila's defense attorneys have hammered away at DNA evidence during the trial in downtown Santa Ana, calling more of their own experts.

The only witness the defense called Tuesday who wasn't put on the stand to address DNA analysis was a crime scene investigator who collected evidence at the Comfort Inn in Temecula, where Avila stayed the night of July 15, 2002, after Samantha disappeared.

Don Petka works for the Orange County Sheriff's Department and was among those who went to the hotel to look for evidence after Avila's arrest. He testified that nothing was found in Avila's hotel room to show Samantha was there.

Avila's attorneys implied during opening statements when the trial began last month that evidence was planted to connect Avila with the crime, specifically DNA evidence collected from his car.

Thus far, no testimony or evidence presented by the defense during the trial has supported that claim. So, David Brent, the Orange County assistant district attorney prosecuting Avila, used the opportunity to question the defense implication while Petka was on the stand.

The prosecutor asked Petka if anyone asked him to plant evidence in Avila's hotel room and the investigator said no one had.

Outside the courtroom, Brent explained his reason for that question.

"You'd think, if someone was going to be planting evidence, this is where they'd start, at the hotel room," Brent said.

But, Brent added, not only was there no planted evidence, there wasn't any evidence found that Samantha ---- or even Avila---- was in Room 217.

After Petka left the witness stand, the defense continued its attack on DNA evidence in the case. Defense witnesses have questioned the reliability of such evidence, whittling away at earlier testimony presented by the prosecution.

Previously, a prosecution expert testified about the DNA evidence collected from under Samantha's fingernails.

Edward Buse, a forensic scientist at the Orange County sheriff's crime lab, told the jury he's analyzed DNA evidence there for about 15 years. Buse testified that there is a 1-in-600 million chance the DNA under Samantha's fingernails belonged to anyone other than Avila.

But the defense has given the jury more probability numbers to possibly consider. A witness called by the defense last week said her analysis of the data led her to conclude the numbers were more like 1-in-50.

Tuesday, another defense witness knocked that down even further, putting one analysis of the DNA evidence into single-digit probabilities.

Randall Libby, a neurogeneticist at the University of Washington, told the 18 jurors that, after removing all questionable areas in how Buse analyzed the DNA samples, there is a 1-in-6 chance of it coming from a Caucasian.

Outside the courtroom, the prosecutor said "it's just getting silly" the way the defense keeps presenting numbers that keep getting farther away from Buse's.

"What (the defense experts) are saying is that DNA is worthless, and I don't think that's where we are with the science," Brent said.

During questioning by Deputy Public Defender Paul Zalewski, Libby said the data which Buse used to come up with his numbers was "not accurately captured." He blamed that, in part, on results that came from two separate DNA test runs that produced a "composite profile." That, Libby said, goes against protocol for such tests and relates to the overall quality of the evidence samples used.

What could be called a "light" moment during complicated scientific testimony of the intense trial came shortly after prosecutor Camille Hill began to cross-examine Libby. Hill was using a laser-pointer to direct Libby to a Power Point slide being shown on a screen in front of the jurors. Libby then used his own laser-pointer to circle the same spot and said, "We'll fight it out" with the red dots.

That brought laughter to some in the courtroom and led Judge William Froeberg to deadpan: "Not in my court you won't."

After a short afternoon break, the testimony became serious once again as Hill went on the attack, questioning the defense expert about his qualifications. She asked Libby how many human DNA forensic samples from crime scenes he has analyzed. After some back-and-forth, Libby answered none.

Hill also brought out to the jury through her questions that Libby has never been a tenured professor, that forensic DNA testing has never been part of his studies to achieve various academic degrees, and that he has done consulting work for defense attorneys since 1988.

Libby testified that 70 to 80 percent of his personal income comes from consultations in defense cases. With some hesitation about specifics, Libby told jurors that he has already billed Avila's defense $48,000 and is still billing another $10,000.

When he had another chance to question Libby, Zalewski countered some of Hill's inquiries.

Libby said DNA testing wasn't developed exclusively for forensic crime scene analysis. He told the jury that his work with DNA testing is aimed at disease prevention, not criminal forensics.

Zalewski asked Libby if he would do consulting work for prosecutors or law enforcement agencies if asked.

"They have my number. They can call anytime they want to," Libby answered.

Defense attorneys are expected to call their final witnesses as testimony continues today at Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/04/20/news/californian/0_11_194_20_05.txt
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xx Defense rests in child-murder case
« Reply #35 on: Apr 21st, 2005, 05:30am »

By: JOHN HALL

SANTA ANA ---- Alejandro Avila's attorneys called their final two witnesses Wednesday morning, bringing an end to the defense case which primarily attacked DNA evidence that prosecutors contend links the Lake Elsinore man to the murder of a young girl.

Samantha Runnion was 5 years old when a man who said he was looking for a lost dog grabbed her on July 15, 2002, as she played near her mother's townhouse in the Orange County city of Stanton.

The next morning, the child's nude body was found off Killen Trail, a quiet stretch of road south of Ortega Highway and west of Lake Elsinore.


Avila, now 30, was arrested four days after Samantha disappeared and is charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering her.

Avila did not testify at his trial.

Two years before Samantha's murder, Avila was acquitted by a Riverside County jury on charges he sexually molested two young girls in Lake Elsinore.

Based on a decade-old law, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg allowed jurors in Avila's current trial to hear testimony about the previous case solely to help them determine if Avila has a predisposition to commit crimes against children.

The defense ---- presumably to impeach the girls' previous testimony ---- called Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Tina Woodard, who took the initial call about the alleged molestations in Lake Elsinore.

The girls testified last month that Avila touched their private areas, whereas Woodard testified Wednesday one of the girls told her Avila tickled her "close to her privates" and another girl said "by her privates."

During cross-examination, however, Woodard told Orange County Assistant District Attorney David Brent that she merely was there to get "the basic story" and the girls were questioned in more detail later.

Then Brent asked her about another statement made by one of the girls.

Woodard said the girl told her that Avila would sometimes push on her chest until it hurt and she had told him to stop.

Brent said outside the courtroom that the girl's statement about "hurting her by pressing on her chest" helps further prove the prosecution's case that Avila killed Samantha.

During a coroner's autopsy on Samantha's body, it was determined that she died from asphyxiation due to pressure on her chest.

Avila's trial started in downtown Santa Ana a month ago today. If he's convicted as charged, the eight-man, four-woman jury then must decide if the former Temecula factory worker should be put to death for the crimes.

Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments from both sides Tuesday and could begin deliberations later that day.

But first, they will hear from one last expert when the prosecution calls a final rebuttal witness.

Brent said Wednesday the witness "will discuss what we think defense experts did wrong" in their analysis of DNA evidence.

What was done correctly or incorrectly has been a major contention throughout the monthlong trial.

There has been a lengthy battle over DNA evidence during the trial with a majority of the testimony dealing with the science of forensic testing and data analysis.

Defense attorney Philip Zalewski implied to the jury during his opening statement that DNA evidence found inside Avila's Ford Thunderbird after his arrest was planted by authorities.

But no evidence or testimony presented during the trial directly addressed his claim.

And Brent said Wednesday he is going to make sure jurors realize that when he gives his closing argument next week.

He'll be throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the defense to tell jurors, in their closing argument, how ---- based on evidence during the trial ---- any DNA was planted.

"They did not prove it; they didn't even come close to proving that," Brent said outside the courtroom. "And I knew when I heard it that they wouldn't be able to prove it."

During the trial, the defense never really mounted much of an attack on the DNA evidence found inside Avila's car. Other than to go after a claim Brent made in opening statements that the evidence "is consistent with Samantha's tears."

Witnesses called by the defense testified that the technology does not exist to prove that a DNA sample came from human tears.

But the defense leveled a lengthy attack on DNA evidence collected from underneath the fingernails of Samantha's left hand.

Defense attorneys believe it was improperly collected and then incorrectly tested. That, they contend, ultimately led to skewed numbers used by the prosecution to tell jurors Avila had to be Samantha's killer.

A prosecution witness testified that there is a less than 1-in-600 million chance that DNA evidence found under the fingernails of Samantha's left hand came from anyone other that Avila.

But the defense called its own experts who ---- depending on how they interpreted the data ---- brought the probability down from the hundreds of millions into double or even single digits.

Whenever the defense called an expert to attack the prosecution's DNA test results, prosecutors countered that with their own attack on the credibility of the defense witnesses.

Elizabeth Johnson was the final witness called by the defense. She also testified for the defense last week.

Johnson is a forensic science consultant who started a DNA lab in Texas in 1991.

Her testimony Wednesday again addressed the conclusions drawn by forensic scientists at the Orange County sheriff's crime lab who looked at the DNA evidence collected from under Samantha's fingernails.

During questioning by Zalewski, Johnson discussed the differences of DNA markers, which identify the specific location of chromosomes within the DNA strand, and "artifacts," or artificial markings generated during the process used to run DNA tests. Artifacts can closely resemble DNA markers.

Johnson questioned whether it was artifacts the prosecution experts were seeing rather than actual DNA markers. "It's something that needs to be considered," she said.

Under cross examination, however, Johnson acknowledged that Avila's DNA markers appeared in the sample where the artifacts could appear.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Camille Hill, asked Johnson if the data, as she analyzed it, could exclude Avila as a contributor to the DNA evidence under Samantha's fingernails.

Johnson said the test results would not rule out Avila.

After testimony concluded Wednesday, Hill, who handled the questioning of DNA experts on both sides during the trial, said there is one key point in all the defense attacks on DNA testing.

"Never, in anything their witnesses said, did they exclude (Avila) from the (DNA) mixture" found under Samantha's fingernails, Hill said.

"They are just trying to ignore the real evidence that places him as a contributor to the left fingernail scrapings," she said. By doing that, she adds, defense witnesses are able to present probability numbers that appear to be more in Avila's favor.

http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/04/21/news/californian/23_26_514_20_05.txt
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xx Closing arguments all that's left in Avila case
« Reply #36 on: Apr 22nd, 2005, 05:12am »

By: JOHN HALL - Staff Writer

SANTA ANA ---- Jurors have now heard all the testimony and seen all the evidence in the trial of accused child-killer Alejandro Avila.

The final rebuttal witnesses for both sides testified Thursday ---- exactly one month after the first witness was called.

All that's left now is closing arguments, which are set to begin Tuesday morning. Then the eight-man, four-woman jury will begin deliberating the fate of the Lake Elsinore man charged with killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.


Avila, 30, showed little emotion during his trial other than wiping his eyes when his mother began having seizures while on the witness stand last month.

Typically, Avila would write on a notepad as witnesses were on the stand. A couple of times, when proceedings were not under way and jurors were out of the Santa Ana courtroom, Avila could be seen grinning or even laughing with his attorneys.

The former Temecula factory worker faces the most serious of charges, first-degree murder, and if found guilty of kidnapping, sexual assaulting and murdering Samantha, he could be sentenced to death.

She was grabbed from near her mother's Stanton town house on July 15, 2002, and her nude body found just off Killen Trail west of Lake Elsinore the next morning.

Jurors were never shown photos of the little girl's dead body as it was found that day, not far from Ortega Highway.

But they'll see them Tuesday during the prosecution's closing argument, Assistant District Attorney David Brent said.

A majority of what the jury has heard since the defense began its case has been the science of DNA evidence, with expert after expert talking about genetic material and data gleaned from its analysis.

Brent said Thursday that jurors need to be brought back to the reality of what happened to Samantha.

"These photos are horrible," Brent said.

The curly-haired little girl was found on her back, nude and in a position the prosecutor said was obviously posed. Her legs were spread and her feet were up under her legs, he added.

The prosecutor had some harsh words to say about Avila after Thursday's court proceedings.

"I feel very comfortable saying that he's definitely a pedophile and that he's (molested) others," Brent said.

"Pedophiles, without proper treatment and sometimes even then, are never cured," the prosecutor continued.

"He definitely would have assaulted other children, if he hadn't been caught," Brent said. "I'm 100 percent sure about that.

In 1999, Avila was arrested and charged with molesting two young girls in Lake Elsinore. A Riverside County jury acquitted him of all charges.

Brent said that Avila very likely learned a lesson in that case ---- to never leave open the door for molestation victims to tell authorities what he did to them.

But, even after her murder, Samantha is telling the jury what happened, authorities say.

There's the DNA evidence found under the fingernails of her left hand that crime lab analysts say shows there is a less than 1-in-600 million chance came from anyone other than Avila.

More DNA evidence was recovered from inside Avila's Ford Thunderbird, which was seized after his arrest July 19, 2002.

Forensic scientists testified genetic material located on the passenger side door inside the car has a less than 1-in-1 trillion chance of coming from anyone other than Samantha.

Defense attorney Philip Zalewski implied to jurors in his opening statement that the DNA evidence inside the car was planted. However, no testimony or evidence provided to jurors by the defense during the trial ever directly supported that claim.

Zalewski, when asked on repeated occasions, has declined to comment about that.

On Thursday, he simply said, "I'll make my comments on Tuesday" during closing arguments.

Brent says he is dumbfounded that the defense never did anything to address the contention of planted evidence or even try to disprove the DNA found in the car.

"That's probably the strongest piece of evidence against the defendant and they didn't touch it at all," he said.

What the defense did spend a tremendous time attacking, however, was the DNA evidence found under Samantha's fingernails.

The defense says it was, first, improperly collected because scrapings were taken from under all her nails and put together into one piece of DNA evidence for testing.

Then, Avila's attorneys say, the testing was done incorrectly and therefore the probability numbers reached by the analysts were dramatically skewed against their client.

Experts who testified for the defense told jurors the it is much less likely than prosecutors contend that the DNA evidence found under Samantha's fingernails came from Avila. One placed it at more like a 1-in-750 chance, while another brought the probability down into single digits.

None, however, completely excluded Avila as being the source of the genetic material found under Samantha's fingernails.

The prosecution called a rebuttal witness Thursday to challenge the testimony given by defense experts.

"I wanted the jury to hear from a neutral DNA expert, one who works for both sides, is a pioneer in DNA testing, and who has no financial benefit from testifying," Brent said. "This is somebody with no ax to grind for either side."

Brian Wraxall works for the Serological Research Institute, which he describes as a nonprofit corporation and lab that does forensic analysis for law enforcement agencies as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys.

He testified primarily about a chart the defense presented as evidence from one of their DNA experts.

Randall Libby previously testified for the defense and said the chart shows how forensic scientists at the Orange County sheriff's crime lab misinterpreted DNA evidence from the fingernail scrapings.

Wraxall told jurors it was Libby who misread the data from the DNA analysis.

Wraxall agreed with the conclusion that there is a less than 1-in-600 million chance the genetic material found under Samantha's nails came from anyone other than Avila.

After Wraxall's rebuttal testimony, the defense called two of their defense experts who told jurors they believe Libby's chart was accurate and that the DNA evidence was not properly analyzed by the crime lab.

While that was the end to lengthy testimony jurors heard regarding DNA evidence, they can expect to hear more about it during Tuesday's closing arguments.

Brent said outside the courtroom that he anticipates, based on the defense case presented to the jury, that defense attorneys will focus heavily on DNA. In contrast, however, he said he'd be surprised if he spent more than about 10 percent of his closing argument on the scientific evidence.

The prosecutor has always said the DNA in this case is just a small part of the evidence he believes proves Avila killed Samantha.

When the prosecution presented its case to the jury, expert testimony was very brief compared to the experts called by the defense.

"(The defense) made it complicated," Brent said.

"I believe they want the jury to not believe the DNA evidence. They want it to look complicated," he said. "There is no way (the jury) followed all the science (the defense presented)."

Brent said he is "very confident" that the totality of the evidence jurors have seen and heard will be more than enough to convict Avila.

If the jury does find Avila guilty as charged, the same jurors will then hear evidence from both sides in the penalty phase of the trial.

After that phase concludes, the jurors would then again deliberate, this time to decide whether Avila should be sentenced to death.

http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/04/22/news/californian/0_14_104_22_05.txt
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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #37 on: Apr 22nd, 2005, 09:24am »

In honor and memory of Samantha Runnion
http://www.thejoyfulchild.org
Samantha's birthday April 21 will be celebrated in Garden Grove, California. Details below!

http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/050421/216007.html?.v=1

Joyful Child Foundation Announces 3rd Annual Children's Arts Festival to Celebrate Samantha Runnion's Birthday
Thursday April 21, 4:59 pm ET

GARDEN GROVE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 21, 2005--The Joyful Child Foundation today announced the 3rd Annual Children's Arts Festival in celebration of Samantha Runnion's birthday. The event will be held July 30 at Samantha's school, Lawrence Elementary School in Garden Grove, and will feature hands-on arts activities for children and their families as a way of sharing Samantha's profound love of art. The festival and all activities and entertainment are free of charge to the public.
Run by volunteers and supported by donations and corporate sponsors such as BP, the Children's Arts Festival has welcomed over 2,000 visitors in each of the past two years, and the event has drawn the attention of national media. Even larger crowds are expected at this year's festival.

"We are so grateful to have the community join together in celebration of Samantha and the love of art," said Runnion. "The Joyful Child's mission is not just to protect our children, but to enrich their lives through art and community involvement. Events like the Children's Arts Festival allow us to both strengthen a sense of community and encourage creative expression."

The Children's March will again open the Children's Arts Festival, led by the Little Safety Officers Kidz Club and concluding with a welcome by Erin Runnion, Samantha's mother and founding director of The Joyful Child Foundation, and birthday cake in honor of Samantha. All participants will receive a T-shirt commemorating the event.

Activities at the festival will include stage events and numerous arts and crafts booths featuring native crafts from cultures around the globe.

Event Details:

-- 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 30, 2005
-- Lawrence Elementary School
12521 Monroe Street, Garden Grove, Calif.
-- Free admission, crafts participation and entertainment

The Joyful Child Foundation - In Memory of Samantha Runnion, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, for public benefit organization dedicated to uniting and uplifting our nation's communities in the protection and wonderment of all children. The Joyful Child Foundation was inspired by the life of Samantha Runnion, a beautiful, bright, joyful little girl with a passion for art.

Samantha's life was cut short as the youngest victim of the summer of abductions in 2002. The Joyful Child Foundation is dedicated to preserving Samantha's memory by transforming their grief into compassionate action that focuses on proactive measures to deal with the difficult issue of violence against children. The Joyful Child Foundation launched Samantha's PRIDE Community Awareness and Child Watch program in 2004 to strengthen communities and protect children from predators. Today, more than 350 volunteer PRIDE Protectors participate in over 80 PRIDES throughout California. For more information, please visit www.thejoyfulchild.org or call 866-7-JOYFUL.

Contact:
Joyful Child Foundation
Erika Price Schulte, 949-636-4242
epscomm@cox.net
or
R.M.S. Public Relations
Shana Starr, 949-481-3984
Shana@RMS-Biz.com
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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #38 on: Apr 22nd, 2005, 09:24am »

In honor and memory of Samantha Runnion
http://www.thejoyfulchild.org
Samantha's birthday July 26 will be celebrated in Garden Grove, California. Details below!

http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/050421/216007.html?.v=1

Joyful Child Foundation Announces 3rd Annual Children's Arts Festival to Celebrate Samantha Runnion's Birthday
Thursday April 21, 4:59 pm ET

GARDEN GROVE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 21, 2005--The Joyful Child Foundation today announced the 3rd Annual Children's Arts Festival in celebration of Samantha Runnion's birthday. The event will be held July 30 at Samantha's school, Lawrence Elementary School in Garden Grove, and will feature hands-on arts activities for children and their families as a way of sharing Samantha's profound love of art. The festival and all activities and entertainment are free of charge to the public.
Run by volunteers and supported by donations and corporate sponsors such as BP, the Children's Arts Festival has welcomed over 2,000 visitors in each of the past two years, and the event has drawn the attention of national media. Even larger crowds are expected at this year's festival.

"We are so grateful to have the community join together in celebration of Samantha and the love of art," said Runnion. "The Joyful Child's mission is not just to protect our children, but to enrich their lives through art and community involvement. Events like the Children's Arts Festival allow us to both strengthen a sense of community and encourage creative expression."

The Children's March will again open the Children's Arts Festival, led by the Little Safety Officers Kidz Club and concluding with a welcome by Erin Runnion, Samantha's mother and founding director of The Joyful Child Foundation, and birthday cake in honor of Samantha. All participants will receive a T-shirt commemorating the event.

Activities at the festival will include stage events and numerous arts and crafts booths featuring native crafts from cultures around the globe.

Event Details:

-- 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 30, 2005
-- Lawrence Elementary School
12521 Monroe Street, Garden Grove, Calif.
-- Free admission, crafts participation and entertainment

The Joyful Child Foundation - In Memory of Samantha Runnion, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, for public benefit organization dedicated to uniting and uplifting our nation's communities in the protection and wonderment of all children. The Joyful Child Foundation was inspired by the life of Samantha Runnion, a beautiful, bright, joyful little girl with a passion for art.

Samantha's life was cut short as the youngest victim of the summer of abductions in 2002. The Joyful Child Foundation is dedicated to preserving Samantha's memory by transforming their grief into compassionate action that focuses on proactive measures to deal with the difficult issue of violence against children. The Joyful Child Foundation launched Samantha's PRIDE Community Awareness and Child Watch program in 2004 to strengthen communities and protect children from predators. Today, more than 350 volunteer PRIDE Protectors participate in over 80 PRIDES throughout California. For more information, please visit www.thejoyfulchild.org or call 866-7-JOYFUL.

Contact:
Joyful Child Foundation
Erika Price Schulte, 949-636-4242
epscomm@cox.net
or
R.M.S. Public Relations
Shana Starr, 949-481-3984
Shana@RMS-Biz.com

http://tinyurl.com/bl8k4

« Last Edit: Apr 22nd, 2005, 09:32am by pattydee » User IP Logged

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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #39 on: Apr 26th, 2005, 05:12am »

Both sides to duel in close of trial in 5-year-old Orange County girl

SANTA ANA, Calif. - During a month of testimony, prosecutors and the defense in the trial of the man accused of kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion sparred over DNA evidence, sometimes contradictory eyewitness accounts and the time it takes to navigate the busy freeways of Southern California.

The two sides in the trial of Alejandro Avila will get a final chance to make their case to jurors in closing arguments scheduled to begin Tuesday morning in Orange County Superior Court.

A man who said he was looking for a lost puppy snatched Samantha from outside her home in Stanton on July 15, 2002. Her nude body was found the following day in mountains some 50 miles away. The crime, which occurred amid a series of attacks on children around the nation, prompted widespread outrage and a massive manhunt for the killer.

If convicted, jurors will decide in a separate penalty phase whether Avila should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Evidence linking Avila, 30, to the crime includes DNA from Samantha from material consistent with tears found inside the passenger side of the defendant's car, Deputy District Attorney David Brent told jurors.

In addition, investigators found DNA matching that of Avila, a factory worker from Lake Elsinore at the time of his arrest, underneath Samantha's fingernails, Brent said.

Witnesses for the defense challenged the methods used to collect DNA from Samantha's fingernails and the accuracy of the results. In addition, public defender Philip Zalewski has suggested that genetic evidence was planted inside Avila's car, noting that it wasn't found during an initial search by forensic investigators. Prosecutors denied the allegation.

The defense team also noted inconsistencies in an eyewitness description of Avila's car and questioned he could have committed the crime within a timeline established through his cell phone and banking records.

Authorities have alleged that Avila, who was acquitted of child molestation in neighboring Riverside County in 2001, killed Samantha because he feared the consequences of another trial.

Despite the acquittal, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg allowed the two alleged victims in the 2001 case and another girl to testify against Avila in the murder trial. One of those girls had lived at the same apartment complex as Samantha.
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/breaking_news/11490523.htm
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xx Jurors shown nude photos of slain California girl,
« Reply #40 on: Apr 27th, 2005, 05:46am »

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Jurors were shown crime scene photos of the nude body of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion during closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of a factory worker accused of kidnapping, assaulting and murdering the little girl three years ago. "This is the hard part of the trial right now, folks," Deputy District Attorney David Brent said, holding up photos for only the jury to see. "What kind of an animal poses a little girl like this?"

Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, was seated in the front row of the courtroom and dabbed her eyes with a tissue during the presentation.

Brent urged jurors to consider all the evidence presented in the five-week trial of Alejandro Avila, including DNA from the slain child found inside his car.

A man who said he was looking for a lost puppy snatched Samantha outside her home July 15, 2002. Her body was found the next day in mountains 50 miles away.

Avila, 30, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and murder. If convicted, jurors will decide whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison.
http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/news/local/11497412.htm

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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #41 on: Apr 27th, 2005, 6:04pm »

The Jury is out and we are waiting for the verdict in this horrific trial. Our thoughts and prayers are with Samantha, her family and friends.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/LegalCenter/wireStory?id=708768&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312
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xx Prosecutor: 'Samantha Runnion identified her kille
« Reply #42 on: Apr 28th, 2005, 05:12am »

Prosecutor: 'Samantha Runnion identified her killer'
By: JOHN HALL - Staff Writer


SANTA ANA ---- The fate of a Lake Elsinore man charged with the brutal murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion is now in the hands of an Orange County jury.

Assistant District Attorney David Brent concluded his rebuttal to the defense's closing argument in the trial of Alejandro Avila on Wednesday morning, after which jurors went into deliberations.

The prosecutor told jurors that the girl, through evidence she left behind during her struggle to get away, is telling them who killed her.


During the monthlong trial, jurors heard testimony from dozens of witnesses and viewed about 200 exhibits. The eight-man, four-woman jury now must decide whether it was Avila who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and then murdered Samantha about three years ago.

Samantha was grabbed near her mother's Stanton townhouse the evening of July 15, 2002, and her nude body was found the next day along Killen Trail, west of Lake Elsinore. Avila, 30, was arrested three days later near his Lake Elsinore apartment.

If jurors find him guilty of first-degree murder, as well as at least one of two special circumstances he's charged with, those same jurors will decide if Avila should be executed. The special circumstances alleged are that the murder was committed during a kidnapping and child molestation.

Brent addressed the jury for about an hour Wednesday, presenting his rebuttal to the defense's closing argument the day before. Brent concluded his final argument by putting an exclamation point on the trial.

Pointing at Avila, Brent said, "Samantha Runnion identified her killer."

Outside the downtown Santa Ana courtroom, the prosecutor elaborated, "She did enough by leaving her DNA in his car."

There is less than a 1-in-1 trillion chance the DNA evidence recovered from the inside of the passenger door of Avila's Ford Thunderbird came from anyone other than Samantha, a prosecution expert told jurors during the trial. DNA evidence found under the fingernails of the girl's left hand also connects Avila to the crime, prosecutors say.

Prosecution experts told jurors there is less than a 1-in-600 million chance that the DNA evidence came from anyone other than Avila.

Avila had scratches on his legs when arrested and Brent has said they could have come from Samantha fighting off her assailant.

Avila's defense attorneys contend the DNA evidence was not properly collected or analyzed. Their experts contend there is a much stronger likelihood than the prosecution alleges that the DNA could have come from someone other than Avila. Their analyses put that likelihood at anywhere from a 1-in-5 to a 1-in-750 chance.

Defense attorney Philip Zalewski went so far as to imply during opening statements last month that the DNA evidence in Avila's car could have been planted by authorities. That infuriated Brent, who took one last swipe at the defense claim while addressing the jury Wednesday morning.

He called it "a wild, pie-in-the-sky accusation" and said it was one of many tactics the defense used to try and distract jurors from the facts.

"They made all kinds of promises they couldn't keep," Brent told jurors.

In his closing argument Tuesday, Brent challenged the defense to back up the planted-evidence claim by naming names or providing details, which hadn't occurred during the trial. On Wednesday, the prosecutor reminded the jury that Zalewski did not back up the implication in his closing argument the afternoon before.

"The best they can do is tell you it's my job to show there is no planting," Brent said. "All they can give us back is that it's the DA's job to prove it didn't happen? Hello?"

In his rebuttal Wednesday, the prosecutor addressed 30 points of contention he has with the defense's closing argument.

Zalewski told jurors Tuesday that the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial.

He attacked circumstantial evidence such as tire, shoe and footprints found near Samantha's body, which prosecutors say link Avila and his Thunderbird to the crime.

Brent countered Wednesday by saying that many criminal cases tried with mostly circumstantial evidence result in convictions.

The defense probably can point to an alternative scenario to explain away each piece of circumstantial evidence in this case, "except for the DNA which, in my mind, is too powerful," Brent told jurors.

Brent asked them to look at all the evidence, circumstantial, as well as the DNA, as a whole.

In Tuesday's defense argument, Zalewski talked about Avila's previous charges of child molestation, for which he was acquitted in 1999 by a Riverside County jury.

Jurors in the murder case are being allowed by the judge to hear about those allegations strictly to determine if Avila has a predisposition to commit sexual crimes against children.

Zalewski pointed out that the girls in the Riverside County case continued to be around with Avila and do social activities with him, even after he had allegedly molested them.

"These are little, 7-year-old girls," Brent said to jurors Wednesday. "How were they supposed to know these things were wrong? The defense is putting adult standards on these kids."

Brent said Avila's motive for killing Samantha stems from what happened in the Riverside County case.

"He had to go through the shame and embarrassment of a criminal trial (for child molestation)," Brent said. "Who would ever want to go through that again?"

Brent said Avila killed Samantha "so she wouldn't tell or else he'd have to go through that again."

The prosecutor also talked to jurors about the window of time Avila would have had to abduct and kill Samantha, which was something Zalewski questioned in his closing argument.

Brent said he doubts Avila ever came off the mountain with Samantha, meaning she had already been molested and murdered before Avila came to Temecula, where he checked into the Comfort Inn.

"Kill her, he did," Brent said. "When he did it is not something I have to prove."

One of the last points Zalewski made to jurors Tuesday was to tell them it would be a difficult deliberation for them, saying the case is a dangerous combination of circumstantial evidence and pressure on the prosecution to convict someone in the high-profile case.

Brent stated it differently Wednesday.

"It's not difficult to follow the evidence to the truth," he told jurors. "It should be a thing of joy and beauty to follow the truth to a conclusion."

Once Brent had concluded his rebuttal, a sheriff's deputy escorted the jurors to the deliberation room just after 10:30 a.m.

"There's no doubt in my mind they'll come back with the right verdict," Brent said outside the courtroom.

The veteran prosecutor, who has handled about 150 cases, including 50 murder trials, said this has been "one of the strongest cases" he's ever had.

If the jury does convict Avila of first-degree murder with either or both special circumstances, jurors will return for the "penalty phase" of the trial. Both sides would then call witnesses to talk about the good and bad of Avila.

Brent said for the first time Wednesday that Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, will testify if there is a penalty phase. She has been in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, beginning with evidentiary hearings and now the details of the trial.

"Erin Runnion is the face of this case," Brent said, adding that she will testify about how she and her family have suffered as a result of Samantha's kidnapping and subsequent murder.

The defense is expected to call members of Avila's family to testify if a penalty phase is needed.
http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/04/28/news/californian/22_14_194_27_05.txt
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xx Samantha Runnion Slay Suspect Convicted
« Reply #43 on: Apr 29th, 2005, 05:24am »

By BEN FOX


SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A jury deliberated nearly nine hours before finding a factory worker guilty of kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, whose 2002 death outraged the public and led to stronger efforts to rescue abducted children.

Alejandro Avila, 30, was convicted Thursday of kidnapping, murder and sexual assault during the second day of deliberations. In the penalty phase, set to begin Wednesday, jurors will decide whether to recommend the death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, hugged prosecutor David Brent as the jury left, and spoke to reporters with tears in her eyes outside the courtroom.

"He is guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! And that feels really good, because nobody should get away with this," Runnion said.

"I feel a tremendous sense of relief," she said, "that Samantha's fight was not in vain."

Ticking off the names of Samantha and other abducted children, Runnion called for parents to take steps to protect their children, the objective of a foundation she launched in the months after her daughter's death.

"How many children do they have to take away, before we as Americans get organized?" she asked. "We're going to organize our neighborhoods. We're going to talk to our children."

When the verdicts were read, one female juror was crying. Avila bowed his head toward the defense table but showed no emotion.

Samantha was abducted, kicking and screaming, from outside her home in Stanton on July 15, 2002. Her nude body was found the following day in mountains some 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.

So many were moved by the young girl's murder that more than 4,000 people attended her funeral. After her death, then-Gov. Gray Davis ordered a statewide expansion of child abduction alerts posted on electronic billboards along freeways.

A police sketch of Samantha's abductor, based on a description from an 8-year-old friend of hers, resembles Avila. Prosecutors said cell phone and bank records indicate Avila had been in the area where Samantha was abducted, DNA matching his genetic profile was found under her fingernails, and sneaker and tire prints found near the girl's body also matched with the defendant.

Samantha's DNA was found on the inside of the door of Avila's car. That evidence came from a small amount of clear liquid that the prosecution said was consistent with tears or mucous.

Avila, of Lake Elsinore, had been acquitted of molesting two girls in 2001 in neighboring Riverside County, and authorities said they believe he killed Samantha to avoid another such trial.

Defense attorney Philip Zalewski contended that prosecutors had a "weak, circumstantial case," and that Avila couldn't have committed the crime within the timeline established by investigators.

Zalewski claimed the DNA from the fingernails was not reliable because it was not properly collected or analyzed, and suggested that the sample found in the car was planted by investigators -- an allegation prosecutors denied.

Judge William Froeberg allowed the girls whom Avila was acquitted of molesting to testify in the murder trial, as well as a third girl who also claims Avila abused her. One of the girls in the 2001 case lived for a time in the same apartment complex as Samantha.

Samantha's killing occurred amid a series of incidents involving children, including the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam of San Diego and the abduction of 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Utah.
http://www.nynewsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/ats-ap_us13apr29,0,236089.story?coll=ny-leadnationalnews-headlines
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xx Re: Samantha Runnion - CA
« Reply #44 on: May 4th, 2005, 07:32am »

Mother of slain Orange County 5-year-old to testify in penalty phase of murder trial

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Prosecutors seeking the death sentence for the man who kidnapped and killed Samantha Runnion planned to call the 5-year-old's mother Wednesday as a key witness in the penalty phase of the trial.

A Superior Court jury must decide whether to recommend death for 30-year-old Alejandro Avila or life in prison without chance of parole.

"This person should be put to death. This case, this crime was so brutal, so merciless and heartless," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told KCBS-TV on Tuesday.

The girl's mother, Erin Runnion, was to answer questions from prosecutor David Brent.

"She's going to let the jury know how bad this was for her," Rackauckas said. "She absolutely wants to do this."

The jury also was expected to hear from Samantha's grandmother, Virginia Runnion, and to see slides of Samantha's life.

Avila, a factory worker from Lake Elsinore, was convicted Thursday of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder by a jury that deliberated for fewer than nine hours over two days.

After the verdict, Erin Runnion told reporters: "He is guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! And that feels really good, because nobody should get away with this."

Prosecutors said Avila, 30, abducted the kicking and screaming girl from outside her Stanton home on July 15, 2002. She was sexually assaulted and suffocated. Her nude body was found the following day in mountains some 50 miles away.

So many were moved by the young girl's murder that more than 4,000 people attended her funeral. After her death, then-Gov. Gray Davis ordered a statewide expansion of child abduction alerts posted on electronic billboards along freeways.

During the trial, prosecutors said DNA evidence linked Avila to the crime. Defense attorney Philip Zalewski contended that prosecutors had a "weak, circumstantial case," and that Avila couldn't have committed the crime within the timeline established by investigators.

http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/sanluisobispo/news/politics/11559432.htm
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