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Girl's Accused Killer Nears His Third Trial

The first convictions in the case of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe of O.C. were overturned. The victim's mother steels herself again for trial.

October 08, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

A former professional photographer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the slaying of a 12-year-old Huntington Beach girl whose body was found dumped in the brushy foothills above Sierra Madre nearly a quarter of a century ago.

It was the third time that Rodney James Alcala has entered such a plea.

He has spent much of the last 23 years on death row for the slaying of Robin Samsoe, who was last seen near the Huntington Beach Pier as she rode a friend's bicycle to an afternoon dance class. Alcala has twice won new trials.

On Tuesday, the 59-year-old returned to Orange County Superior Court to begin the third trial, as did Marianne Connelly, the victim's mother.

"I have to be here," Connelly said, clutching an old school photograph of her daughter. "Robin has a right to be represented by somebody. Everyone remembers the killers. Nobody remembers the victims."

Alcala's court-appointed defense attorney, David Zimmerman, declined to comment.

Alcala was first convicted of the girl's murder in 1980, but the verdict was overturned when an appeals court ruled that Orange County prosecutors improperly introduced evidence that he had a history of violence against young girls.

He was convicted a second time in 1986, but that verdict was voided on grounds that the judge had wrongly barred testimony that would have cast doubt on the prosecution's star witness.

Now he faces trial not only in the Samsoe killing but also on charges stemming from an earlier slaying to which he was recently tied through DNA. "There was a cold-case hit on a 1977 murder victim," state Deputy Atty. Gen. Adrianne S. Denault said in June when Alcala was charged in the Dec. 16, 1977, killing of Georgia Wixted, 27, at her home on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, alleging that Alcala beat Wixted to death in addition to committing burglary and rape, filed the complaint against him as a "special circumstances" case, meaning that the death penalty could be sought.

In the Samsoe case, the 12-year-old disappeared not far from her Huntington Beach home June 20, 1979. Her body was found nearly two weeks later in the Angeles National Forest by a park ranger who testified at the first trial but was so traumatized by the discovery that she developed amnesia and couldn't appear at the second. Prosecutors said it's unclear what role, if any, she will play in the third trial.

Connelly, who now lives in Norco and for 24 years has sat through every court hearing related to the death of her youngest child, was in court again Tuesday, holding the picture of Robin wearing a pink and purple shirt with a white headband pulling back her smooth, blond hair.

"I could never imagine her grown-up," she said of the daughter who would have turned 35 this year. "I can't picture her being anything but my little angel."

Connelly said she's unsure how to cope with the nightmares that are already resurfacing. She finds some peace in praying, she said, and often spends hours visiting Robin's grave site at Good Shepherd Cemetery in Huntington Beach.

She said she would continue to pray for the day when there is closure, the day when she stands in a room with her other children to watch Alcala be put to death.

"He is an animal," she said. "I want to see him dead. I want this over with. It's been like a circus. It's been like a soap opera."

A hearing will be held Oct. 17 to determine when Alcala's trial, expected to last eight weeks, will begin.

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Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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