Death For Man Who Murdered Runnion

A judge Friday formally sentenced to death the man who kidnapped and murdered 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in a case that led to the expansion of abduction alerts on electronic billboards along state freeways.

"You're a disgrace to the human race," the girl's mother, Erin Runnion, tearily told Alejandro Avila in court. "... Everything in me wants to hurt you in every possible way."

A jury convicted the 30-year-old former factory worker in April and voted for the death penalty in May. Judge William R. Froeberg endorsed the recommendation.

Avila snatched the kicking and screaming girl as she played outside her Stanton home. Her nude body was found the next day about 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed. Authorities said she had been sexually assualted and suffocated.

"I want you to disappear into the abyss of a lifetime in prison where no one will remember you, no one will pray for you, and no one will care when you die," Erin Runnion told Avila in court.

"This was not about me and my family versus this man. This was about our community — the people — versus this man," Runnion said. "Because when someone commits a crime like this, when someone hurts an innocent child, it really is a crime against all of us."

More than 4,000 people attended Samantha's funeral and then-Gov. Gray Davis ordered a increase in the number of electronic billboards that flash information about a suspected abduction soon after it's reported.

A friend of Samantha's gave police a description of her kidnapper that produced a police sketch resembling Avila. Prosecutors used cell phone and bank records to show Avila's whereabouts, and DNA evidence later linked him to the crime.