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Federal Judge Overturns Alcala Conviction

Prosecutors must decide whether to try man for the third time in the 1979 slaying of a Huntington Beach girl, 12.

April 03, 2001|JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a second time, an appeals court has overturned the conviction and death sentence of Rodney James Alcala for the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe of Huntington Beach.

The victim's mother, Marianne Connelly of Corona, was devastated when she learned about the ruling late Monday.

"Oh, no! My God, how many times are they going to put us through this hell?" she said, sobbing. "This is just so unfair."

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of Los Angeles on Friday ruled that during Alcala's 1986 trial, then-Orange County Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin "precluded the defense from developing and presenting evidence material to significant issues in the case."

The news stunned attorney Tom Goethals, a former deputy district attorney who had prosecuted Alcala in his second trial, in 1986.

"This is unbelievable," Goethals said. "It was one of the most satisfying convictions of my career, because I truly believe that Mr. Alcala is a very dangerous man."

The Samsoe girl's body was found in the foothills of Angeles National Forest on July 2, 1979, 12 days after she was last seen alive on a bicycle near the Huntington Beach Pier.

Alcala, a photographer from Monterey Park, was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1980. He won a new trial two years later when the California Supreme Court ruled that the jury should never have been told about his criminal past during the guilt phase of that trial.

Alcala had a history of violence against young girls, dating from 1968.

In 1968, Alcala attacked an 8-year-old girl whom he had picked up on the way to school. Authorities believe the girl, who had been raped and beaten with a pipe, would have died if police had not broken down a door to save her.

Alcala was sent to prison for that assault and was sent back to prison again after attacking a 14-year-old girl. He was on parole for that crime when he assaulted and raped a 15-year-old girl in 1978, just four months before the Samsoe slaying. He was out on bail facing trial for that assault when Robin Samsoe disappeared.

At the second trial, the prosecutor's case relied heavily on the testimony of Danna Crappa, a forestry worker. Crappa said that on the day Robin disappeared, she had seen a girl about the same age with a man who fit Alcala's general description in the area where the body later was found.

Crappa had given police a description of the car at the scene, which matched Alcala's car almost perfectly.

Other witnesses then identified Alcala as the man who approached Robin and a friend to take pictures of them on the beach the day she disappeared.

The state Supreme Court upheld Alcala's second conviction.

Alcala has been on San Quentin's Death Row for 20 years. He will remain in prison until prosecutors decide what to do about his case.

"No doubt he'll have to be tried again, but after 22 years [since the crime], it won't be that easy," Goethals said.

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