Prosecutors will seek death penalty in Samantha killing
SANTA ANA, California (CNN) -- Prosecutors announced Monday they intend to seek the death penalty against Alejandro Avila, the man accused of killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas made the announcement at a Monday afternoon news conference.
"If there was ever a case where justice would be served by seeking the death penalty, this is the case," Rackauckas said. "Any mitigating circumstances are not even remotely outweighed by the callous and depraved crimes with which Mr. Avila stands charged."
Avila, 27, faces first-degree murder charges in the killing of Samantha, whom he is accused of abducting July 15 outside her Stanton, California, home. Medical authorities determined the child was sexually assaulted before her death.
The charges include two counts of forcible, lewd conduct upon a child younger than 14.
Less than 24 hours after her disappearance, a passerby discovered Samantha's nude body on a rural road about 50 miles from her home.
"There is no question in my mind that the person who kidnapped, molested and murdered 5-year-old Samantha should face the death penalty," Rackauckas said.
In addition to the counts against Avila, prosecutors have alleged three special circumstances, each of which could make him eligible for the death penalty. They are that Avila killed Samantha during the commission of two lewd acts and during the commission of a kidnapping.
Avila, who is being held without bond, has told investigators he was at a mall in San Bernardino County around the time of Samantha's abduction. But a source has told CNN multiple calls from Avila's cell phone and numerous credit card purchases place Avila in nearby south Orange County, where Samantha lived.
A Friday court date has been set for Avila to enter a plea in the case.
Rackauckas said he has received "hundreds" of letters and e-mails from around the world regarding the case, and that the "overwhelming sentiment" was in favor of capital punishment for Samantha's assailant.
The decision to seek the death penalty came after the standard review by a special circumstances committee. Rackauckas said he reviewed the evidence, spoke with Samantha's mother and Avila's defense attorney, then considered the committee's unanimous recommendation before deciding to pursue it.
"We have a process, and it's a fair process, and I thought it would be important to go through that process in this case, as with other special circumstance cases," Rackauckas said.
The district attorney said he expects the case to be tried in Orange County, and that "under no circumstances" would he accept a plea bargain.
If all sides exercise their rights to a speedy trial, Rackauckas said, the case could go to court within 90 days from Friday. He said he does not expect the defense to want a delay.
Rackauckas previously told CNN the defense would likely move for a change in venue, but his office was confident a fair jury could be found in Orange County.