Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jurors recommend death for California serial killer, judge grants request

(Original Post 3-10-10)


SANTA ANA – Courtroom spectators applauded Tuesday when an Orange County jury recommended that serial killer Rodney James Alcala be put to death for five sexual assault and torture murders committed in the 1970s.

Alcala, who represented himself during the eight-week trial, did not look at the jury as the verdict was announced after just an hour of deliberations. He stared down at the counsel table with no outward sign of emotion.

But family members of murder victims pumped their fists and cheered.

Robert Samsoe, the older bother of victim Robin Samsoe – a junior high school student who was kidnapped while on the way to ballet lessons on June 20, 1979 – raised his fist and shouted "Yes! Yes!" Robin was Alcala's last victim.

"It's a great feeling that Robin did not die in vain," Robert Samsoe told reporters later. "We got a monster off the streets for good today."

Dedee Parenteau, the sister of murder victim Jill Parenteau, who was raped, tortured and strangled in her Burbank apartment a week before Samsoe was murdered, smiled and raised her fist when the verdict was announced.

"I'll never have Jill back, but I do feel a sense of relief," she said. "I'm happy for Jill and the other girls that they got justice today."

And Anne Michelena, the sister of murder victim Georgia Wixted, smiled and accepted congratulations from friends in the courtroom. "I've waited 33 years for this," she said. "It was really hard to hear what happened to my sister, but this feels like a sense of relief."

Judge Francisco P. Briseno politely reprimanded the spectators – mostly family members of victims – after the spontaneous applause when the verdict was announced. "Remember you are in Superior Court," he said. "Please keep your composure."

Briseno said he will schedule Alcala's sentencing date on Wednesday.

The same jury convicted Alcala last week of five counts of first-degree murder, plus the special circumstances of committing multiple murders, murders during the course of sexual assault and torture, and murder during a kidnapping.

Those special circumstances findings triggered the penalty phase, where the jury's only choice was the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jurors said later they had little difficulty making that decision.

The jury foreman, who gave his name as Jeff, said, "These were horrendous crimes. ... There was an overwhelming feeling to render a verdict of justice to show our sympathies to the families."

Juror Greg Lacey, 63, spoke to some family members of the victims. "I'm a father and a husband," he told them. "Seeing you gave us the strength to do our duty."

It was the third time that Alcala has heard a jury condemn him to death.

He was tried twice, convicted twice and sentenced to death twice before in the Samsoe case, but both of those convictions were reversed on appeal.

Before he could be tried a third time for Samsoe's death, he was linked by DNA and other forensic evidence to the sexual assaults and torture murders of the four women in Los Angeles. Those cases were merged into one trial in Orange County.

Earlier Tuesday, Alcala played lyrics from the 1960s song "Alice's Restaurant" during his 13 minutes summation and told his jurors that they would become "de facto killers" if he is executed.

Alcala told jurors that a verdict of life in prison without the possibility of parole "would end this matter now" and would provide closure to the family members of his five victims. But if jurors decided that death was the appropriate penalty, they would "instantly become wannabe killers in waiting," he said.

One juror, who gave his name as Vic, told reporters that Alcala's argument was "very insulting. He basically called us killers."

Alcala took the rare step of representing himself during the eight-week trial. He presented no evidence in the brutal Los Angeles County murders of Jill Barcomb, 18, in November, 1977; George Wixted, 27, in December 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 32, in June 1978, and Jill Parenteau, 21, on June 14, 1979.

But he continued to insist that he did not kidnap or murder Robin Samsoe, an always-smiling junior high schooler who was kidnapped as she pedaled a friend's bicycle to ballet practice on June 20, 1979. Her decomposing remains were found 12 days later in the foothills of Los Angeles County not far from Alcala's home in Monterey Park.

Alcala quickly became a suspect in the Samsoe case in 1979 when his parole officer reported to Huntington Beach Police detectives that he bore an uncanny resemblance to a police artist's composite sketch of a man in his mid-30s who talked the 12-year-old girl into posing for photos a few minutes before she went missing.

Detectives learned that Alcala held himself out as a freelance photographer and that he was in the vicinity of the beach at 14th Street where the photo incident took place. Several other young girls then came forward and identified Alcala as the photographer.

He was arrested on July 24, 1979, and has been in custody ever since, either awaiting trial or on Death Row at San Quentin Prison before his convictions were reversed.

During the investigation, detectives found dozens of photographs of young women at Alcala's home in Monterey Park and in a storage locker in Seattle. They also discovered a pouch of jewelry in that storage locker that contained gold ball earrings that Robin Samsoe's mother identified as hers.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued that Alcala was a predatory monster who sought out young women to kill because he enjoyed it, and that he sometimes kept the earrings of his victims as trophies.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, forensic examiners determined that the DNA from Charlotte Lamb – one of his Los Angeles victims – was on rose-shaped earring that were found in the same pouch as the earring belonging to Robin Samsoe.

Marianne Connelly, Robin Samsoe's mother, arrived at the courthouse about an hour after the verdict was announced. She hugged her two sons, who have attended almost every minute of the third trial, and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and trial prosecutors Murphy and Gina Satriano. "I am just delighted with the verdict," she said, near tears. "Three times going through this is enough. Hopefully, we'll never have to do this again."

(Update 4-10-10) On Tuesday, March 30, Alcala was sentenced to death in an Orange County, CA courtroom.  Judge Francisco Briseno for the deaths of 4 victims and a teenage girl. Briseno said that Alcala's posing of bodies after death indicated that "sadistic sexual motives" were the root cause of the rape-slayings, and that he had an "abnormal interest in young girls."

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