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Alejandro AVILA





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 15, 2002
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: 1975
Victim profile: Samantha Runnion (female, 5)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Orange County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death July 22, 2005

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Alejandro Avila is a convicted murderer who killed five-year-old Samantha Runnion in California in July 2002. He was sentenced to death and is currently imprisoned at San Quentin State Prison in California.

The crime

On July 15, 2002 in Stanton, California, five-year-old, Samantha Runnion was playing a board game in the front yard of her home with her six-year-old playmate Sarah Ahn. Avila, who was cruising the area, approached the girls asking if they had seen his Chihuahua dog.

Samantha, who cared for animals and even owned a cat, approached the vehicle and asked "How big is it?" Avila then snatched the girl, threw her into the back of his vehicle, and drove off. Samantha kicked and screamed, but Avila did not let her go. She screamed to her friend "tell my grandma, tell my grandma". Her naked body was found the next day in neighboring Riverside County. She was sexually molested and posed almost as if the killer was showing off his work.

Sarah Ahn, the only eyewitness to the abduction, provided a portrait of the kidnapper. The drawing revealed a Hispanic male with a mustache, slicked black hair, brown eyes, and between 25-35 years old. The abductor drove a light green Honda.

On July 18, investigators received a tip to look into Alejandro Avila, who had been acquitted in 2001 of sexually molesting his ex-girlfriend's nine-year-old daughter and her cousin. The police soon discovered that Avila, who lived with his mother and sister, came home very late the night Samantha was abducted and could not account for his whereabouts. As the investigation continued, the evidence against Avila became more damning.

According to court documents, calls from Avila's cell phone were made in Samantha's neighborhood on the day of her abduction. His bank card was used to rent a motel room the same day; Samantha, who was kept alive for several hours after the kidnapping, is believed to have been molested and ultimately killed in that room. Avila's DNA was found on Samantha's body, and her DNA was found in his vehicle.

Avila was formally charged for Samantha's death July 23, 2002 and was held at the Orange County Jail until his conviction in 2005.


  • During his 2005 murder trial, the prosecution revealed an ongoing conversation between Avila and another sex offender on the file-sharing program Kazaa. The sex offender, who was not called for the trial, is believed to have been in Europe. In the conversation, Avila and the pedophile boasted about molesting young girls. Both pedophiles agreed it was wrong to molest a child related to onself, but okay if the child was a stranger.

  • Avila was sometimes was referred to as "Alex" or "Alexander".

  • Between the time Samantha was found dead and Avila's arrest, the murder received a lot of media coverage. Avila's mother, watching the coverage, told Avila she hoped the murderer was soon caught. Avila asked, "Do you think they should give him the death penalty?" His mother's reply: "Yes."

  • Throughout the search for Avila, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona was best known for saying to Avila, "Don't eat. Don't sleep. Because we're coming after you."


Jury Convicts Alejandro Avila In Death Of Samantha Runnion

Man Accused Of Killing 5-Year-Old Girl

April 28, 2005 -

Los AngelesJurors convicted Alejandro Avila Thursday in the 2002 death of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

Avila, 30, was convicted of kidnapping, murder and two counts of sexual assault. Jurors will decide in a separate penalty phase whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Opening statements in the penalty phase were scheduled for Wednesday.

Samantha's mother Erin Runnion, in the front row of the courtroom, cried silently as verdicts were read. She hugged prosecutor David Brent as the jury left the courtroom.

She thanked jurors, law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and the media during a news conference.

"I feel a tremendous sense of relief that Samantha's fight was not in vain," Runnion said. "He is guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty... and that feels really good because nobody should get away with this."

As the first verdict was read, someone in the audience said, "yes, yes." Avila bowed his head toward the defense table but showed no emotion.

The evidence presented in a five-week trial included DNA from Samantha collected from a small amount of a clear liquid, which the prosecutor said was consistent with tears or mucous, found on the inside of the door of Avila's car. Authorities also collected a sample of DNA that matched Avila's genetic profile from underneath Samantha's fingernails.

There were also cell phone and bank records that placed the defendant in the area where the girl was abducted, kicking and screaming, from outside her home in Stanton on July 15, 2002. Her body was found the following day in mountains some 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.

Avila 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.

The slaying 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.

Runnion also delivered an impassioned message Thursday to criminals who victimize children.

"How many children do we have to take away before we as Americans get organized?" Runnion said. "We outnumber you so many times over there is no excuse, and we're not going to let you get away with it any more. We're going to organize our neighborhoods and we're going to talk to our children. We're not giving you an opportunity to prey on our children anymore."

More than 4,000 people attended Samantha's funeral. In the wake of her death, then Gov. Gray Davis ordered a statewide expansion of child abduction alerts posted on electronic billboards along freeways.

Additional evidence presented at Avila's trial included a description of Samantha's abductor provided by an 8-year-old friend, which led to a police composite sketch that strongly resembled Avila. Police also found sneaker prints similar to those worn by Avila and tire prints like those from his car in the area where the girl's body was found.

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

Zalewski noted inconsistencies in the witness testimony and called the rest of the evidence a "weak, circumstantial case." Avila, he said, couldn't have committed the crime within the timeline established by investigators.

Deputy District Attorney Brent, noting that child pornography was found on Avila's computer, said the defendant is a pedophile who killed Samantha because he did not want to go through another trial like the one in which he was acquitted in 2001.

One of the girls he was acquitted of molesting had lived with her father at the same apartment complex as Samantha though she had moved several months before the abduction.

Despite the acquittal, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg allowed testimony in the murder trial from the girls in the 2001 case along with a third who claimed Avila abused her.



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