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ORANGE COUNTY

Avila Wins Hearing Delay

Courts: Prosecutors say cat hair, a sneaker print and tire tracks link the Lake Elsinore man to Samantha Runnion's murder. Preliminary has been reset for Dec. 2.

October 08, 2002|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors told a judge Monday that cat hair, a sneaker print and tire tracks link a Lake Elsinore man to the kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

The revelations came as Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas argued against further delays in the prosecution of Alejandro Avila, even offering to proceed without introducing DNA evidence if that would keep the proceedings on track.

"We want to expedite this process and get it through the court as fast as we can," Rackauckas said in what turned out to be a losing effort.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno granted a defense request to delay the preliminary hearing for Avila, agreeing that his attorneys needed more time to analyze the physical and scientific evidence provided by prosecutors.

The proceeding was originally scheduled to begin Friday; Briseno set a new date of Dec. 2.

Avila, 27, has pleaded innocent to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Runnion. He could face the death penalty.

Until Monday, prosecutors had revealed little about the case they are building against Avila. Search warrants supporting his arrest and the search of his apartment and car remain sealed.

In court in Santa Ana, Rackauckas said that hair strands from Avila's cat were found in his car, and they were similar in color, thickness, shape and pigmentation as hair found in Samantha's hair.

Rackauckas also argued that a print from a sneaker found at the scene would implicate Avila as well, citing a shoe box for the same brand and style in his closet. And a tire track was similar in width and pattern to those on his car.

Assistant Public Defender Denise Gragg said the science of cat hair is "more esoteric" than human hair, and that she has no evidence that Avila's shoe size matches that of the print.

Samantha was abducted July 15 as she played with a friend near a row of garages at her Stanton condominium complex. Her body was found the next day along a mountain road between Orange County and Lake Elsinore. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

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