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Crime, Outrage, and Mourning

Copyright © 2002, 2005 by David E. Ross

The Crime

In the southern California city of Stanton, every parent's worst nightmare came true. On 15 July 2002, just short of her sixth birthday, Samantha Runnion was grabbed in broad daylight. The kidnapper put Samantha — kicking and screaming — into his car and drove away. One day later, her body was found. She had been sexually assaulted and then smothered to death.

Feelings of Outrage

Samantha's playmate gave such an accurate description of the kidnapper that, when the police arrested Alejandro Avila that Friday, his resemblance to the police drawing was striking.

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Re "Murder Suspect Is No Stranger to Violence," July 20:

The fact that the alleged killer of Samantha Runnion, Alejandro Avila, was tried for assaulting two little girls and found innocent is really a sorry tale of our weak system. This man should have been locked up instead of roaming our streets.

It was noted that Avila had pornographic material on his computer, a common occurrence with sex perverts. This could be one reason we are seeing an epidemic in these crimes.

Willa Miller
Huntington Beach

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When Avila's arrest was announced, the District Attorney in neighboring Riverside County disclosed that he had been previously tried for molesting two girls but had been found innocent. That launched a flurry of Letters to the Editor of the Los Angeles Times. Among them, was this letter on 23 July.

I must ask what Ms. Miller does not understand about found innocent. No matter how the verdict is reached, we do not put innocent people in jail. And what is her complaint about our legal system, which forces the government to prove guilt rather than force the accused to prove innocence. Avila's attorney in that prior case claims his client was found innocent because the prosecutor failed to present any believable evidence that Avila was guilty. How then does Miller assert that Avila should have been locked up anyway?

And finally, not every man possessing pornography is a pervert. At least that is what a presidential commission — under a Republican President — concluded.

No, I am not trying to defend Avila. If he is guilty, he should be punished. But his guilt should be determined in a court of law, not on the pages of a daily newspaper. And he should be punished only if he is convicted.

A Mob of Mourners

Cynic Alert

Yesterday, Samantha's funeral at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, drew 5,000 mourners.

5,000 mourners!!

Think. How many people do you know? With how many neighbors are you neighborly? How many cousins and second cousins do you have? Do you know the children of your parents' friends and the parents of your children's friends? How many coworkers, customers, and suppliers do you know at least by name? If you were to die today, how many would come to your funeral?

Samantha Runnion was not a world-famous entertainer or athlete. She was not a political leader, an executive of a Fortune 500 corporation, a Nobel Prize winner, or the discoverer of a wonder drug. She was a little girl, unknown by the general public until she was kidnapped, from a rather ordinary, unknown family.

What prompted 5,000 people to attend the funeral of a child they did not know? Why do not 5,000 people attend the funerals of children who die of bacterial and viral infections every day? What about the infants who die of sudden infant death syndrome? How many attend the funerals of those children killed in accidents? How many mourners will attend the funeral of Angelina Rose Morgan, who died (not far from where Samantha lived) when her father forgot her and left her strapped to her infant seat in the family van with the windows up in the blazing sunshine?

Aha! Samantha Runnion was famous. Her kidnapping, the discovery of her body, the arrest of a suspect, and her funeral in the magnificent Crystal Cathedral were all news. Those 5,000 people attended her funeral not out of grief for their loss; they personally lost nothing. They were there because they hoped that some of Samantha's fame would transfer to them. Some might be seen in news photographs; others even had voice clips broadcast on the radio. They attended Samantha's funeral merely so they could boast: They were there!

25 June 2002

On 29 April 2005, a jury found Alejandro Avila guilty of molesting and murdering Samantha Runnion. On 16 May, that same jury recommended Avila be executed. Today, Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg ratified the jury's recommendation and sentenced Avila to death.

None of this invalidates my comments above. And, as horrific as Avila's crime was, it still does not change my opinion about capital punishment.

22 July 2005

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