Calif. judge sentences serial killer Rodney Alcala to death for 5 slayings

By Gillian Flaccus, AP
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Calif. judge sentences serial killer to death

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Relatives of victims poured out their grief and anger Tuesday before convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death in a packed courtroom in the 1970s strangling of four women and a 12-year-old girl.

Some distraught family members and friends addressed Alcala directly, telling him their lives had been torn apart by his crimes.

Choking back tears, some said they had night terrors. Others detailed their fear of strangers or their devastating depression and anxiety.

“For 25 years, I looked over my shoulder, never knowing who or what I was looking for. I never felt safe,” said Anne Michelena, sister of victim Georgia Wixted. “I still feel anxious when I walk in a dark house.”

Other relatives begged Alcala to admit to the murders to give family members a measure of peace.

“There’s murder and rape, and then there’s the unequivocal carnage of a Rodney Alcala-style murder and rape,” said Bruce Barcomb, brother of victim Jill Barcomb. “Give up your dead, Rodney: all victims, all states, all occurrences. Own your truth.”

Alcala, 66, showed no emotion and kept his head down as families took turns condemning the amateur photographer and UCLA film school graduate.

His death sentences will be automatically appealed.

Alcala was convicted last month of five counts of first-degree murder after a bizarre and sometimes surreal trial.

He acted as his own attorney and unveiled a rambling defense that included questioning the mother of one of his victims, playing an Arlo Guthrie ballad and showing a clip from the 1970s TV show “The Dating Game.”

After the verdict, authorities released more than 100 photos of young women and girls found in Alcala’s storage locker in hopes of linking him to other unsolved murders around the country.

Authorities are pursuing more than a half-dozen cases in New Hampshire, Washington, California, Arizona and New York, although those investigations are just beginning, prosecutor Matt Murphy said. None of the photos have been confirmed as missing or murdered women, but some are “looking interesting,” Murphy said.

Alcala has been sentenced to death twice before in the 1979 murder of young Robin Samsoe, but those verdicts were overturned on appeal. Prosecutors refiled charges in that case and added the four other murder counts against Alcala in 2006 on the strength of DNA samples and other forensic evidence.

Those cases, which had gone unsolved for decades, went on trial for the first time this year.

During trial, prosecutors outlined Alcala’s penchant for torturing his victims. One had been raped with a claw-toothed hammer, another had her skull smashed in with a 7-inch rock, and one was strangled so fiercely the pressure broke bones. Several of the victims were posed nude in sexual positions after their deaths.

The 12-year-old Samsoe disappeared on June 20, 1979, while riding a friend’s bike to ballet class in Huntington Beach in Orange County. Her body was found 12 days later in Angeles National Forest, and a cause of death could not be determined because it had been mutilated by wild animals.

Alcala was arrested a month later, when his parole agent recognized him from a police sketch and called authorities. He has been in custody ever since.

During the guilt phase of trial, Alcala played a seconds-long clip of himself on a 1978 episode of “The Dating Game.” He said the grainy clip proved that he was wearing a gold-ball earring almost a year before Samsoe was killed.

Prosecutors said the earring, found in a small pouch with other earrings in a storage locker Alcala had rented, belonged to Samsoe and that Alcala had taken it as a trophy. They also found the DNA of another victim on a rose-shaped earring in the same pouch.

During the penalty phase, the trial took another bizarre twist when Alcala played Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 song “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which the narrator tries to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War by trying to persuade a psychiatrist that he’s unfit for the military because of his supposed extreme desire to kill.

“I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth,” the song’s narrator sings. “Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean: kill, kill, kill, kill.”

The song prompted Samsoe’s brother to stalk out of the courtroom when it was played.

On Tuesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge F.P. Briseno said the song showed Alcala’s callousness.

“The words, the tone, the violence contained in that song said to me, this is Alcala’s national anthem,” the judge said after delivering the sentence. “This is who he is.”

Samsoe’s mother, Marianne Connelly, said she had hoped her daughter died quickly, but hearing testimony about the other four cases shattered that illusion.

“What I am grateful for is the fact that my little 12-year-old Robin stopped him from taking any more lives,” she told the court. “She helped make it possible for law enforcement to put him behind bars where he belongs.”

Along with Samsoe, Alcala was convicted of killing Barcomb, 18, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Oneida, N.Y.; Wixted, 27, of Malibu; Charlotte Lamb, 32, of Santa Monica; and Jill Parenteau, 21, of Burbank.

(This version CORRECTS RECASTS. UPDATES with automatic appeal of death sentence, quotes and color throughout. corrects to say victim impact statements came before formal sentencing. corrects ‘debt’ to ‘dead.’ RESTORES Barcomb quote. ADDS photo links.)

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