California judge OKs evidence in murder case of 5-year-old girl abducted from her front yard
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Hours after a prosecutor revealed details in the Samantha Runnion case — saying fibers on the 5-year-old’s body were believed to match those from a hotel room allegedly registered to the suspect in her slaying — the district attorney’s office discounted the evidence Friday.
Orange County prosecutor Jim Mulgrew discussed the evidence as he argued against a defense motion to throw out that and other information in search warrants that led to the arrest of Alejandro Avila in the 2002 slaying of the girl.
It was one of the few times in open court that any prosecutor has discussed the evidence, which has been withheld from the public since Avila, 27, was arrested.
“There were fibers of a yellowish-green nature found on the body of the victim. The officer saw similar fibers on a blanket in the hotel,” Mulgrew told Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg.
Mulgrew did not tell the judge in open court the fiber evidence listed in a search warrant affidavit was wrong, as others in the district attorney’s office said hours later.
“We’re not saying the fibers matched. We’re saying that’s what the police officers believed at the time,” spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder said.
Both prosecution and defense motions about the evidence are under seal. Froeberg set an Aug. 25 hearing to determine whether to continue to keep the evidence sealed.
Samantha was abducted from her front yard last July as she played with a friend. Her nude body was found the next day along a highway. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
Defense attorney Denise Gragg asked Froeberg to toss out the fiber evidence, as well as statements made by Avila and the 6-year-old playmate of Samantha’s who witnessed the kidnapping. Gragg cited inconsistencies such as the dates when her client was allegedly with his mother and the differing descriptions of the car the attacker drove.
Froeberg denied Gragg’s requests.
“I don’t think it makes any difference regarding probable cause,” the judge said, adding, “There is more than enough evidence.”
Avila has pleaded innocent.
Mulgrew said that although there were several inconsistencies in the warrants and reports, he said there was more than enough probable cause to arrest Avila.
As examples, Mulgrew cited Avila’s story to authorities he was with his mother and sister the day Samantha was kidnapped. He said Avila allegedly changed his story when confronted with evidence that he was at the Ontario Mills mall, then had driven to Oceanside and eventually on to Temecula, where he checked in at a Comfort Inn.
He also cited evidence that Avila allegedly had cut his hair to change his appearance and washed his car in the days after Samantha’s abduction.