Alejandro Avila, a 30 year old factory worker -- who was once tried for child molestation -- was arrested as part of the California police probe into the kidnapping, rape and murder of 5 year old Samantha Runnion.  Her nude body was found dumped in the open near a rural highway in what investigators said was a calling card from the killer warning that he intends to strike again.  The cause of her death was not immediately clear but investigators believe she was sexually assaulted.  An autopsy is under way.  Samantha was playing with a 5-year-old friend when she was abducted kicking and screaming outside her apartment building by a man who pulled up in a light green Honda or Acura car and asked for help finding his puppy.  Her body was discovered June 16, 2002, less than 24 hours after her abduction and 50 miles from where she was taken.  Avila lives a short distance from the site where Samantha's smothered body was found after they searched his Lake Elsinore, California apartment, his workplace and the home of his mother.  He was charged with molesting two girls in 2000, but later acquitted.  Before his arrest, Avila told the Los Angeles Times he had no hand in kidnapping and killing Samantha.  He said that he was grilled by cops for 12 hours, but insisted that he was at a local shopping mall at the time of the abduction.  Samantha's family said they moved from nearby Garden Grove to Stanton a year ago because they wanted a safer place for their three children where they could play outside without fear.  Thousands of mourners packed a church to say goodbye to Samantha, a child many knew only through a photograph flashed during news reports of her abduction and slaying.  Her mother, Erin said, Nothing can bring our baby back, but knowing that her death was handled with the utmost integrity and her life cherished by so many does bring some solace.  We are overwhelmed by the love people have shown Samantha.  Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against Avila.  There is no question in my mind that the person who kidnapped, molested and murdered 5 year old Samantha should face the death penalty, Orange County District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas said.  Avila pleaded innocent August 9, as prosecutors investigated additional claims against him in a separate case.  He was arraigned and a pretrial hearing was set for September 16.  One of the two girls whom Avila was accused of molesting earlier has made additional claims against him.  The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is interviewing the girl and other potential witnesses to determine if there is enough evidence to bring a new case against him.

Avila was convicted on April 28, 2005, for kidnapping and murdering Samantha.  After deliberating for less than nine hours over two days, jurors convicted him of kidnapping, murder and sexual assault.  In the penalty phase the jury would decide whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Avila was sentenced to death on July 22.

(Santa Ana, California)