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A Glimpse at the Evidence in Child's Slaying

ATM records, cat hairs, a security video and more may link the suspect to Samantha Runnion's death last year, unsealed documents show.

August 29, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

In documents unsealed Thursday that give the first glimpse of the evidence against Alejandro Avila, prosecutors allege that cat hairs, footprints, a security videotape from a San Clemente gas station and ATM records link him to the kidnapping and strangulation of Samantha Runnion.

Prosecutors also collected statements from Avila's family to punch holes in his alibi and reconstruct what they believe happened the night of July 15, 2002, when Samantha, 5, was abducted as she played outside her Stanton condominium.

Among the few new bits of evidence not previously reported are the gas station surveillance video and a white shirt with traces of blood and semen found near one of the crime scenes.

Generally, however, there were no big surprises in the nearly 200 pages of a defense motion released Thursday, the first records to be unsealed in the case under a judge's order issued Monday.

The motion, which was filed and denied last month, challenged the validity of search-warrant affidavits that led to Avila's arrest.

It is in those affidavits, attached to the motion, that the evidence is outlined. Prosecutors have said they have more than 10,000 pages of evidence in the case.

In the interest of protecting Avila's right to a fair trial, Orange County Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg kept other material sealed, including Avila's statements to police, names and addresses of witnesses and how Samantha's body was positioned.

Samantha was just days shy of her sixth birthday when she was forced into the car of a stranger who approached her and a playmate, asking if they could help him find a lost puppy. Her body was found the next day in the Cleveland National Forest, posed in a way that investigators took as a threat that the killer's crime spree wasn't over.

Within days, investigators zeroed in on Avila.

Search warrant affidavits and other documents released Thursday confirm earlier reports that police based their suspicions on many factors, including a tip from Avila's former fiancee that he might be responsible.

During an interview with investigators, Avila denied any involvement in the crime, saying he was with his mother and sister at the time Samantha was abducted and that he spent the night in question at a Comfort Suites Inn in Temecula, the records show.

But in separate interviews, his sister and mother told police they had no idea where he was that night. And investigators learned that Avila acknowledged he had received a haircut and washed his car sometime afterward -- behavior that investigators found suspicious.

Among the evidence is a video from a San Clemente service station that allegedly shows Avila pumping gas the night of the abduction -- evidence that prosecutors maintain contradicts his alibi. ATM records also put him at the station, the records show.

A white shirt was also found at a campground about five miles from the body.

It later tested positive for blood and semen, but it is unclear whether it has been linked to Avila.

The records also show investigators found orange-and-white hair strands from Avila's cat in his car that they believe to be similar to those found in Samantha's hair.

Records also show a print from a sneaker found at the scene fits the style and brand of an empty shoe box in Avila's closet.

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