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Orange County Authorities Update Samantha Runnion Case

Aired July 19, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening, I'm Larry King in Los Angeles. Welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We are standing by for the start of a news conference that's going to take place in Stanton, California. There you see the set-up. It will be held by Sheriff Mike Carona in regards to the abduction and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

Sheriff Carona announced earlier today the arrest of Alejandro Avila in connection with the Runnion abduction/killing. Five-year-old Samantha Runnion was abducted from outside her apartment house in Stanton, California on Monday evening by a man who lured her with a request for help in finding his puppy dog. The abduction was in Orange County. Samantha's playmate, 5-year-old Sarah Ann, witnessed all of this. Authorities described the abductor as an Hispanic male between ages 25 and 40, dark slick-backed hair, thin, dark moustache. His vehicle was described as a light green two-door car, possibly an Acura, maybe a Honda.

On Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the abduction, a frantic 911 call led authorities to the nude body of a dead little girl. On the edge of Cleveland National Forest, that's about 50 miles from Stanton. The body located was in Riverside County, not Orange County.

On Wednesday, the body was officially identified as being that of Samantha Runnion.

Authorities said the body had been left like a calling card, and that there was a great deal of forensic evidence on the scene and the body. They also warned of a possible serial rapist-killer on the loose.

Now we come to Thursday, yesterday. Authorities announced that Samantha had been sexually assaulted, that the cause of death was asphyxiation. They said that the perpetrator had been with her several hours before killing her, and that the little girl may have fought him off, possibly injuring his hands arms and/or face.

This morning, the Orange County sheriff began his daily news conference by playing an edited version of that frantic 911 call that reported the discovery of Samantha's body. We'll play that for you later in the hour. The caller was only identified as Justin.

Then, after saying he wouldn't take any questions, the sheriff announced that the 27-year-old Alejandro Avila had been arrested in connection with the Runnion abduction killing. "The L.A. Times" is reporting that Avila is denying involvement in this crime. He claims he was at a mall when Samantha was taken Monday night.

Avila lives in the Lake Elsinore apartment complex, that's about 10 miles from the place where Samantha's body was found. Police descend on that complex Wednesday night armed with search warrants, and they carted away boxes of material. They also impounded three cars. This apartment complex, by the way, is in Riverside County.

Now, according to court records, Avila was accused previously of molesting two 9-year-old girls in Riverside County. One, the daughter of his then girlfriend, one the daughter of his then girlfriend's sister. That took place over several months in 1999. He was acquitted of all charges, found not guilty by a jury in January of 2001.

And now what we are awaiting is the press conference from Sheriff Carona, who has been on this program every night this week to get us up to date. We'll carry that press conference, and then we'll meet our panel. I'll introduce them to you now. In San Francisco is Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was abducted from her home and murdered in 1993. A paroled felon was later convicted of crime and sentenced to death. He's the founder of KlaasKids Foundation, an advocate for child protection and crime's victims' rights.

In Los Angeles, Dr. John Deirmenjian. Dr. Deirmenjian is a forensic psychiatrist, medical doctor, clinical faculty, UCLA School of Medicine.

And the sheriff is now, we are told, approaching floor, so let's go right to him for the press conference. Here is Sheriff Carona.

SHERIFF MIKE CARONA, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Thank you very much for hanging with us. The members of the -- members of the media, the public, if this were the Old West, you'd all be in the sheriff's posse. You'd all be deputy sheriffs, because you brought this one home, and I want to say thank you, straight up, to all of you who have been out here every single day and for the members of the public who kept calling and giving us leads, which eventually is what made this case.

I didn't get a chance to do the question-and-answer with you this morning. We needed to finalize where we were in this investigation. I have some prepared remarks, and we have a couple of speakers. And then I'll be more than happy to spend as much time as you'd like answering questions that you might have.

At this morning's press conference, we gave you information that we had arrested a suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Runnion. Alejandro Avila, a production line supervisor, age 27, of Lake Elsinore. Based upon the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, we were able to pull together what is, I believe, a quintessential picture of the way law enforcement should act and react to keep our community safe and to bring people to justice. I'd like to personally thank some of my colleagues who have been with me day in and day out through this process. From the FBI, you have been able to talk with him and listen to him, Richard Garcia. From the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff-elect Bob Doyle. From the California Highway Patrol, Commissioner Spike Helmick was going to be here. He was unable to get down here. And in his stead, Assistant Chief Skip Carter is representing the California Highway Patrol. The Orange County district attorney's office, Orange County probation for the countless hours as they worked through their sexual registry. The California State Parole Office, as they also deployed parole officers into the field, looking for sexual registrants. All the local law enforcement agencies throughout Orange County, every single one of them who donated personnel to this manhunt.

To the people that are behind the scenes that you haven't had a chance to meet or talk to, but frankly kept us all going 24 hours a day. The Red Cross, who fed us and made sure the coffee was always there. T.I.P., the Trauma Intervention Program, who stayed with Sarah to make sure that she was safe and comforted. To Detective Mike Streed (ph) of the Orange Police Department, one of the first people that we engaged who did the composite that you have been passing around. It was very helpful in making an arrest in this case. To the city of Stanton, who stepped forward with a reward, council members and, of course, its mayor, Brian Donahue.

Despite all of this, and without the assistance of you, the media, and more importantly, the public, this case would not have been solved as quickly as it was. This arrest is a result of an incredible amount of tenacity and personal devotion on the part of talented, dedicated law enforcement professionals, combined with the concerned public and the most helpful media we've seen to date.

Let me share with you just a few details of this investigation. The Orange County Sheriff's Department was able to deploy deputies on the scene within four minutes of the 911 call when Samantha was abducted. A countywide broadcast was put out over the Red Channel within 10 minutes of that 911 call. A care alert, a child abduction regional emergency alert, was put out within one hour after the 911 phone call. A description of the suspect and his vehicle were broadcast by the media, also within one hour of our notification that Samantha had been abducted.

To date, over 60,000 hours of personnel time have been dedicated to this investigation, originally to deal with the kidnapping of Samantha Runnion, and afterward, to deal with the murder of Samantha Runnion.

Utilizing the best forensic techniques, the Orange County sheriff's crime lab, scientific procedures and investigative processes of not only local law enforcement, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we have confirmed that Alejandro Avila is our suspect in this case. We have therefore arrested Mr. Avila on suspicion of kidnapping, and for the murder of Samantha Runnion.

What is now most important is that we protect the integrity of this case for its eventual prosecution. As a result, many aspects of this investigation and evidence that we have confirmed cannot be discussed openly at this time.

We need to stress that this investigative process is ongoing, and we'll remain vigilant until we investigate all leads in reference to this case. Anyone who has additional information about Alejandro Avila or any other information regarding this case, however small, that it may be related to this case, please contact our information hotline at 714-890-4280. I can't stress enough our appreciation to the public for their patience and overwhelming support.

In the process of following every lead, and there were over 2,000 leads that came in, and in an attempt to reduce the risk to the public, it was necessary for many of us in law enforcement to make car stops, detentions, and other investigative contacts that may have inconvenienced some members of the public. We appreciate your understanding and we thank you for your support.

This case is now ready to be handed over to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, just four days, just four days after Samantha had been abducted. This serves as a testament to what can be done when law enforcement comes together, when walls were broken down, territorial imperatives set aside, when men and women stay focused on the prize. And in this case, the prize was making sure that no other child was injured and that the killer of Samantha Runnion was brought to justice.

I'd like to introduce now my colleague from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Garcia.

RICHARD GARCIA, FBI: Thank you, sheriff.

You see before you representatives of various law enforcement agencies. But behind us are tremendous amount of men and women, professionals, who are dedicated to try to bring resolution to this crime. The cooperation that the FBI has enjoyed working with the other agencies here has been phenomenal. We utilized various investigative techniques. But one of the better techniques we have utilized is you, the public, engaging them, having you call in these tips. If it wasn't for the numerous tips that we have received, the information given to our investigators, and then gone out to try to see what we can dig up.

This cooperative effort not only with law enforcement, but with the public, cooperation in the media in this effort, brought resolution to this case. But having all these individuals out here, you got to have some sort of leadership in this location. Orange County Sheriff's Department initially has the call, initially has the jurisdiction and initially was running this investigation. Various jurisdictions were crossed, Riverside County, et cetera, FBI, other agencies were all here to help the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Anything we can do to make this thing work.

But I have to commend the leadership of Sheriff Mike. I just -- we went through a lot of different things this week. There's a lot of hours we spent up. You know, Mike Carona was just there all the time figuring out who is going to stay awake either for the next press conference or for the next briefing we're going to have in the investigative effort.

But this thing also worked as far as the agents and the police officers and the detectives involved here. They would see us here working together. And, you know, what we have here, we just have basically one law enforcement agency with a common goal: bring resolution to this case. Mike, I want to thank you. This is the best I've ever seen in the 28 years in law enforcement that I've been. Thank you.


CARONA: The FBI has been fantastic to us. They brought resources to bear that most law enforcement agencies, locally or at the state level, don't have. When we asked to be able to access their profilers in Washington, D.C., the answer wasn't just yes, it was, when do you need them? They were willing to put them on a plane. But time was of the essence. We were able to take digital paragraphs of some of the forensic evidence that we had and transmit that to Washington, D.C. And the profiling began, and it helped us engage in this manhunt for Mr. Avila. The man who signed off on that is the assistant director of the FBI, Ron Ayden (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIAL: Thank you, sheriff.

First, to the parents and to the family of Samantha Runnion, on behalf of the entire FBI, our deepest sympathies in your terrible loss. Please know that we all share your grief. Second, to the community, to the public, as a sheriff, and Rich had said earlier, to the hundreds of people who have called offering information, offering their assistance, thank you. You know that the assistance you have offered and have provided has been critical to helping us resolve this case.

And finally, to the hundreds of men and women of law enforcement who, since Monday, have worked tirelessly, first in an attempt to rescue Samantha, and then in a determined effort to bring her killer to quick justice, thank you. You have our deepest gratitude and our deepest respect. Thank you.

CARONA: Another example of what happens when law enforcement starts thinking outside the box and we cooperate and how quickly we can all come together, my colleague in Riverside County, the sheriff- elect of Riverside County, Bob Doyle, placed a phone call, running from one executive briefing to another. And there was a need for us to be able to get our homicide team out to Riverside and actively work that crime scene so we could keep the pressure on and get the profile done, collect enough evidence to be able to make an arrest in this case.

And, again, Sheriff Doyle didn't blink an eye. It is very unusual in America for cops to allow other cops to come into their jurisdiction. Boundaries are broken down. Sheriff Doyle stepped forward in a big way. It was a leap of faith and it was a courageous decision. It was the right decision. I want to introduce my friend, Sheriff Bob Doyle.


First of all, I would like to ask all of you to continue to pray, support and assist Samantha's family. The burden of losing a child is never lifted. This is just one of many chapters as they continue on in their lives. So please continue to be with them.

Second, I think all of us, the media, the citizens of Orange County, Riverside County, and certainly law enforcement can feel a moment of pride for contributing to this situation as we continued day in and day out to pursue the suspect in this tragic situation. In my 28 years of law enforcement, I have never seen the cooperation from all those entities that occurred this week happen. And because of that, we have a suspect in custody. The media, the citizens, law enforcement, all played a part in that. And it shows you what can be done when we join forces in these types of situations.

The citizens of Orange County can be proud of their sheriff's department and the personnel that work here. And they can even be more proud of the leadership that Sheriff Mike Carona gives to the communities here in Orange County. He is my friend. He is my colleague. And I am very proud to be able to call him both of those. They have a good man here in Orange County.

I especially want to thank all of the law enforcement personnel who were on the ground day in and day out, pursuing these leads, both here in Orange County, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department employees and especially our homicide unit that assisted in Riverside County.

I want to again thank all of you for your participation in helping to solve this crime. Thank you.

CARONA: The city of Stanton was rocked by this tragedy, but they stepped forward in a big way. Mayor...

KING: We're expecting some Q&A from the reporters on the scene. We'll go back as soon as that occurs. We won't break for any commercial interruption.

You've already met Marc Klaas in San Francisco and Dr. John Deirmenjian in -- here Los Angeles.

In New York is Nancy Grace, the anchor for "Trial Heat" on Court TV. Here in Los Angeles, defense attorney Mark Geragos, who has handled cases involving kidnapping and alleged pedophilia.

On the phone is Jeff Collins of the "Orange County Register."

Jeff, is it true that you spoke with the sister of the suspect? Is that correct?


What did she have to say about Mr. Avila?

COLLINS: She had a number of things to say. She started off kind of complaining about the treatment that they got by police, and she felt that after talking to her brother, that the search warrants were kind of a vindictive thing because he asked for a lawyer.

She also said that he didn't have any apparent alibi for Monday night. You heard earlier in the newscast that he had said he was -- he told his mother he was in the mall.

KING: Yes.

COLLINS: He was actually supposed to cook dinner Monday night, and family members were expecting him home to cook chicken.

KING: And he didn't come?

COLLINS: He wasn't there. And then they called him on his cell phone. At first he said he was in Corona, which is on the Orange County/Riverside line and said he was just driving around. Later said he was in the Ontario Mills Mall.

The curious thing was it's an indoor mall, but the mother said she heard the sound of planes in the background.

KING: Did the sister seem to imply that this suspicion is valid?

COLLINS: No. They -- just the opposite. They think he's innocent. He says he's innocent. They don't think he has anything to do with it.

KING: But what do they make about him supposed to be home, not being home, saying he's at an indoor mall and they hear airplanes? What does she say about that?

KING: I asked her that question and she says, you know, I'm trying not to think about it; I don't know what to think, I'm very confused.

KING: He was found not guilty in a prior trial, right? Do you know any of the details of that?

COLLINS: I know a few of the details.

KING: Hold on, Jeff. I think we're going to take some questions.

CARONA: ... for what you were able to do, the support you've given them, the love you've given them and, more importantly, the information you gave us that brought Samantha's killer into custody so quickly.

That's the message from me on behalf of Samantha's family.

To Mr. Alejandro Avila, in which he didn't realize when we found Samantha's body and this investigation took place Samantha became our little girl. When I told you that we would use every resource that was available to us to make sure that you were brought to justice; when I told you, Mr. Avila, that we would be relentless; when I told you that if you sleep or you stop to eat, we won't, we're going to close in on you.

And when I told you that we would hunt you down wherever you were, arrest you and bring you to justice, if you thought for one minute that I was joking, that we were joking, tonight you know we were deadly serious.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.


CARONA: Yes sir.

QUESTION: What first brought Avila to your attention?

CARONA: A tip from the public. One of the calls that we received; actually, several of the calls we received.

Yes ma'am?

QUESTION: Sir, has Sarah Ahn, the 6-year-old witness, identified Avila as the person who kidnapped Samantha Runnion?

CARONA: The investigators are still working to put together that package. And you're going to hear this from me throughout, and I'm not going to apologize, but I'm going to state it up front.

We were very guarded in what we released, but we tried to give you. the media and, more importantly, the public every piece of information we could about this case so that you could help us solve the crime, which you did.

Wait one second, let me finish.

Now we move to the next phase, which is the prosecution. There are things that are embedded in what we've done in the investigative part that are still ongoing and that are important to the prosecution. I will not be telling you about those, and so I'll be respectful when I give you that answer.

But understand, while we did our job in getting Mr. Avila into custody, we want to make sure that we don't impede the work that the district attorney has to do in making sure that he gets prosecuted for this crime.

Yes sir?

QUESTION: A two-part question, maybe in general terms, so you can talk to us.

CARONA: Yes sir.

QUESTION: How certain are you that this is your man?

And secondly, how strong is the evidence? How would you characterize the evidence against him, in a general way?

CARONA: I'm 100 percent certain that Mr. Avila is the man who kidnapped and murdered Samantha Runnion.

We believe that our physical evidence, the investigative information we've pulled together, the help that we received from the public, combined, will prove that he, in fact, is that individual.

Yes ma'am?

QUESTION: One follow-up. Do you think there's a second person out there?

CARONA: Let me finish -- yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) DNA back and whether (OFF-MIKE) suspect?

CARONA: I can tell you that from this morning's press conference -- which you were all very gracious in not asking any questions until this afternoon -- we were able to comb through quite a bit of evidence, physical evidence, as well as investigative evidence that was put forward -- and as a result of that, I can tell you that we're confident that Mr. Avila is, in fact, the murderer of Samantha Runnion.

QUESTION: Mr. Avila told Channel 4 that...

CARONA: Scientific evidence is embedded in that, but it is not the only issue that we're basing this on.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Avila told Channel 4 that he was taken into custody at 10:00 a.m. He said he requested a lawyer at 6:00 p.m. When we spoke to him again at 3:15 a.m. this morning he said that he was told that he was not under arrest but that he could not leave. You said this morning that he was then arrested at 9:55.

Are you concerned that, in his defense during this case, that this 24-hour period will be used against you in that prosecution?

CARONA: I can tell you that Mr. Avila was arrested at 9:55. I can tell you that he was under investigation prior to that. How that information is used by whoever decides to defend him is really up to the defense attorney and the courts. That's not a decision that I'll make.

Yes sir?

QUESTION: Yes it will. What's that considered?

CARONA: I can assure you that Mr. Avila was not held against his will until 9:55 in the morning, at which point in time we made an arrest of Mr. Avila.

Yes sir?

QUESTION: Is there any indication, or do your investigators have any clues that there's anyone else but Mr. Avila involved in this particular crime? (OFF-MIKE) assistance at all was given to him?

CARONA: At this point in time we do not believe that there is evidence to support that there were additional parties other than Mr. Avila involved.

However, this is an ongoing investigation. We are still culling through a lot of forensic evidence that we have picked up at the crime scenes. And we're still taking tips from the public.

So that decision as to who else may or may not be involved in this crime is still up in the air.

Yes sir?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) just a couple days ago you were saying (OFF-MIKE) we have this guy in our sights (OFF-MIKE)

When did you know? (OFF-MIKE) was it forensic or was it a tip? What was (OFF-MIKE) finally that turned your department to say, this is our guy?

CARONA: What brought Mr. Avila into our field of vision was a tip from the public. Again, we were very thankful that somebody gave us, at least, an opportunity to look at him.

It was then based upon very solid investigative techniques that the -- our field of -- our focus narrowed onto Mr. Avila, as well as several other suspects, as I mentioned to you this morning. Physical evidence at the scene and additional evidence that was collected, when analyzed in its totality, gave -- made us come to the conclusion that Mr. Avila is our man.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. Avila hit your radar screen (OFF-MIKE)

CARONA: I don't have the exact time, sir. We'd have to look at our tip sheet on that.

But we've been examining him for over 12 hours.


CARONA: I'm sure they will. I don't know how that's played out, but we're very thankful. So we're more than happy to get them a reward -- the reward.

Yes ma'am.

QUESTION: Was Mr. Avila one of your prime suspects from the beginning? At what point did he become a person of interest to your department?

CARONA: Let me explain to you. We've had -- and I shared with you somewhere between 10 and 50 people that came into our field of vision. This is a very difficult process. We had 400 investigators out in the field, and we had people that would become very exciting to us because of certain aspects of who they were or where they were or what they were doing. And as we were going through the investigative process, all of a sudden somebody would be exculpatory. They no longer were in our field of vision, and we'd drop them off. And the numbers keep narrowing.

It is a very laborious process. But I can tell you that it went from a huge number down to a smaller number, down to a smaller number, and eventually stopped at one. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The demeanor of Mr. Avila, you detained him, and I gather he agreed to come with you. Can you talk about, was he cooperative when he was put under arrest? Did he say anything? Was he despondent?

CARONA: I can tell you that Mr. Avila was cooperative throughout the entire process when we were interviewing him. He was also cooperative at 9:55 in the morning when we made the arrest.

Yes, ma'am?


CARONA: I can't tell you anything about that. I will share with you that all of the investigative information was critically important for us in making this case. It's also going to be critically important for the district attorney in prosecuting this case. So, that's one of those comments that we're just not going to go down that. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is somebody going to be getting the reward in this case?

KING: It's obvious that, of course, they are not going to reveal the elements of the investigation and whether they have fingerprints and what kind of evidence they have. That will be learned when you get to trial, or possibly learned through leaks.

Before we pick up with our panel, a couple of other quick things for Jeff Collins of the "Orange County Register" who's on the phone with us. What happened at his previous trial when he was acquitted, Jeff?

COLLINS: You know, I have not seen the details of that case, and we are looking into that still. I'll tell you that Mr. Avila's sister told me that the witnesses gave conflicting information, that one girl -- there were two victims -- and one girl said that they were together when they were molested; the other girl said they were separate. Whether those are the actual facts of the case, I have yet to see. But anyway, he was acquitted. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). KING: We appreciate -- one other thing, Jeff. Is Sheriff Carona well known throughout Orange County? Has he had a lot of public image, because he sure excelled this week?

COLLINS: Sheriff Carona was well known throughout Orange County. Now I think he's very well known throughout the rest of the nation.

KING: I would say. Thank you very much. That was Jeff Collins of the "Orange County Register" discussing the events of the day.

Let's get the thoughts of our panel. We'll start with Marc Klaas in San Francisco. This looks pretty tight kind of police work, isn't it, Marc?

MARC KLAAS, KLAASKIDS FOUNDATION: Well, I tell you, Carona knows how to give good press conferences. This has been one of the most extraordinary weeks in the history of kidnapping in America.

I would caution the public, though, that not everybody is going to have the first response savvy that Sheriff Carona had, and that if, in fact, your own child is kidnapped, you should take it upon yourself to contact all of the relevant law enforcement agencies like those he had behind him, as well as the media assignment desks and any non- profit child locator services that are available.

The only thing that could have been better is if they brought her home alive. Extraordinary work.

KING: Speaking of that here, let's play a portion of the 911 call. They are only identifying this gentleman as Justin. This is the gentlemen who found the body. Listen.


CALLER: Hello!

911 OPERATOR: Hi. What's going on?

CALLER: Oh, my God! I found a dead body! Please hurry!

911 OPERATOR: Where at?

CALLER: OK, I'm in the Ortega's, OK? OK? And now, I'm in Riverside County, OK?


CALLER: Listen to me...


CALLER: I'm scared to sit here! There's another truck up the street, and we want to get out of here! We're scared!

(END AUDIO CLIP) KING: Dr. John Deirmenjian, forensic psychologist, clinical faculty, UCLA School of Medicine, what kind of evidence do you think they have?

JOHN DEIRMENJIAN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: I think they have unsurmountable evidence, and I have no doubt that it's going to lead to a conviction.

KING: Based on just what we've heard and the way they've handled it and this sheriff, right?

DEIRMENJIAN: Yes, and also the composite description by the little girl who was with the victim. The description very closely matches the perpetrator.

KING: Isn't that rather amazing, Mark? Before we ask Nancy. Isn't that amazing for a 5-year-old to come that close?

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's so phenomenal when you think that in a span of, whatever this was, a minute 90 seconds, that a composite was able to be developed that she remembered that, that she was able to identify on top of that, the car, the, I mean, the color of the car, and then has the ability and the calmness, so to speak, and the wherewithal to go and immediately tell somebody and give that description, and presumably, has gone and probably made an identification. My guess is sometime today, although he didn't want to say it, that they've got some kind of an identification that was made on top of it.

KING: Nancy, you've been around trials and courts and investigations. What do you make of this work?

NANCY GRACE, COURT TV: Well, I think it's incredible, and I think it goes back to the original source of the eyewitness. Larry, as Mark was pointing out, how accurate her description was. She had it down cold all the way to the color of his shirt, powder blue, and the chrome wheel covers on his car. And I think that that will definitely play a key role when this goes to a jury trial.

KING: As a prosecutor, Nancy, are you a little concerned about one of the questions asked to the sheriff, that he asked for a lawyer and wasn't given one?

GRACE: No, I'm not concerned about that, because we are getting drips and leaks of what went down, and when Sheriff Carona answered that question he said, "we had him under suspicion for a period of time. At 9:55, we arrested him." He inferred it was a very clean arrest, and I don't think there's going to be a problem. The fact that he asked for a lawyer does not mean he didn't get a lawyer, nor do we know if he's given a statement.

GERAGOS: Yeah, and you know, there is this misconception, because it happens whenever clients come into my office. They say, I wasn't given my Miranda rights, I wasn't given -- as if there's a nice box that somebody hands you.

KING: You only get Miranda when arrested, right?

GERAGOS: When arrested. But the only remedy for the failure to do so is an exclusion. They throw out a statement. Well, here by all accounts we don't have a statement that incriminates him. So it doesn't matter.

KING: If someone is the subject of an investigation, can he or she say, I will not talk to you. I want my lawyer here. I won't give you my name.

GERAGOS: Absolutely. And I won't give you my -- well, they can say, I'm not going to cooperate. I want my lawyer. Bring my lawyer. And all that the law requires is that the police stop questioning. But, remember, if they keep questioning, the only remedy you have is if you then say, OK, I'm guilty, I give up, I did it, then to throw that confession out. Here we don't have that. Here we have got the opposite, which is he's maintaining he has got an alibi.

GRACE: And Larry, and the other thing is, he is no stranger to the system. This is not his first walk around the block. He's been through an arrest before, as well as a jury trial and an acquittal.

KING: But he was not guilty.

GRACE: That's right, but what I'm telling you is he knows what his constitutional rights are. Make no mistake about that.

KING: I see. What, Dr. Deirmenjian, we don't want to convict before a trial. I never want to do that. So this accused, if he did this, what kind of person is this? No killing before, we assume.

DEIRMENJIAN: No killing before, however, we have reason to believe that he has been involved in molestation in the past. As we have discussed in the past, he was -- as we were speculating before, we had an alleged perpetrator that he was likely to have offended in the past. And as we are seeing now, more and more with his ex- girlfriend and her child and the suspicions that there were with regards to his possible molestation of that child...

KING: But when you were here last time, you said you think he wants to be caught. If it's him, why not give it up then if he want to be caught? He's been caught.

DEIRMENJIAN: Well, we've seen now evidence that he actually did not want to be caught. We saw him -- we've seen him changing his tires, observing the car for evidence.

KING: So that was wrong, then, to guess that he wanted to be caught?

DEIRMENJIAN: There may have been a part of him that wanted to be caught or wanted to be chased.

KING: We'll pick right up from there. We'll be right back with Marc Klaas, Dr. John Deirmenjian, Nancy Grace and Mark Geragos on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: I'm so scared right now, and it's a little kid.

911 OPERATOR: Calm down.

CALLER: I'm sorry, but I have a 3-year-old son.

911 OPERATOR: You have a 3-year-old son with you?


911 OPERATOR: Justin, Justin, hey, hey, was this an adult?


911 OPERATOR: Was it an adult body?

CALLER: No, it's a baby, and I think it might even be the little girl that's been on the news. It's a little girl. I swear, we just looked, and as soon as we seen her, we left.




CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Hey, my phone's cutting out, I'm going to my house right now.

DISPATCHER: That's OK. How soon will it be until you get to your house?

CALLER: I'm pulling in a gated community. I'll be there within like four minutes.

It's like (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If 911 can I just ask for you?

DISPATCHER: If you call what?

CALLER: If I just call 911 there will I just get back to you?

DISPATCHER: You'll get back to us, yes.

CALLER: OK. I'm just going to call you as soon as I get there. I'm so scared right now, it was a little kid.

DISPATCHER: Calm down.

(END AUDIO CLIP) KING: Mark Geragos, what on Earth was the relevance of that for the police releasing it? He found the body. The body had been identified. We all know this already. Now they've got a suspect. Why did they announce this today?

GERAGOS: That tape, I don't know. I don't want to hear it. I don't know if many people do want to hear to it.

KING: Is it just to appeal to a maudlin (ph) audience (ph)?

GERAGOS: I suppose. There was a report the other day that there were aerial shots that the helicopters have taken of the little girl's body there. And a lot of the local news directors said it was the most disturbing thing they've ever seen and refused to play it, which I think was the right decision.

KING: Why do you think the police played it?

GERAGOS: I don't know except to I guess maybe in some way thank the public or thank the gentlemen who found this. But I just think that for the parents and for the family, it's just an awful thing to have to listen to.

KING: All right. We'll get everybody's opinion. Doctor, what do you think?

DEIRMENJIAN: Well, the only thing I can think of is that possibly they wanted to continue to engage the public in seeing how horrifying this crime was and...

KING: Play the horror factor more?

DEIRMENJIAN: Yes. And to get the public more involved in trying find clues to see - does anybody know him?

KING: Marc Klaas, why do you think?

KLAAS: Well, I think that they are just expanding on the overall horror of this entire incident. At least now people know what this is about. This is no walk in the park, Larry. This is so serious and so deadly and so horrible that nobody can turn their back on this kind of crime anymore, I believe.

KING: And Nancy?

GRACE: Well, first of all, I'd like to point out if they had not released it, the press and public would be screaming for it to be released. So now that it's released, everybody is saying, oh, why was it released, it's horrible? But I can tell you I agree with the doctor and with Marc Klaas. And that is until it happens to you or you are in law enforcement, the horror, the sheer shock of the whole thing, the reality of it, it's not just a news story. It is a dead little girl. And this portrayed that. And I think they were trying engage the public in getting more information about the perp.

KING: Mark Geragos, if he cannot afford his own defense and an Orange County judge appoints someone, will he appoint a prominent criminal attorney to do this?

GERAGOS: No. The first line of defense, so to speak, is the public defender's office.

KING: But in a capital case don't they get a prominent attorney?

GERAGOS: No. Generally the public defender's office has what they call a death penalty panel. They've got the public defenders that are skilled in death penalty cases. Unless there is some kind of a conflict of interest, the public defenders' office would handle this case. If there is a conflict of interest, then they go down the line. They can go to an alternate public defender or they would go to an indigent defense panel.

KING: Can he get a fair trial?

GERAGOS: Yes. I think he can actually get a fair trial. I think in a lot of ways what the sheriff did today, in some ways, I would have liked to have seen that he had stopped before the question and answer period. But what he did in terms of not wanting to get into the specifics, if you will, of what they had in terms of evidence and not wanting to prejudge it, I think was textbook and exemplary in the way you want to handle something like this. You don't want to get in and start trying that thing immediately so that somebody has then got an argument later on to move the - change the venue or something else.

KING: Doctor, there are a lot of pedophiles, right?


KING: But very few murderers, right? very few.


KING: The percentage of pedophiles who murder their people - because they love their people right? in a sense. To them it's an affectionate thing they are doing.

DEIRMENJIAN: Or they want to continue with their behavior.

KING: Who kills?

DEIRMENJIAN: Really the most disturbed, and not just sick as far as ill, but sociopathic, psychopathic criminal kills the child.

KING: So sociopath then doesn't think he did something wrong? isn't that the definition of sociopath?

DEIRMENJIAN: Yes. The sociopath has no conscience.

KING: No conscience. So that's what you think occurs in these few twisted cases?

DEIRMENJIAN: Absolutely.

KING: Marc, it happened to your daughter. Why do you think that guy killed your daughter?

KLAAS: Well, he doesn't even care. They don't care about their victims. They don't care about us. We are play things that exist for their own instant self gratification without consideration for the consequences. It will all come back. This guy is going to rot in hell for all eternity and probably get his shiv in prison, which is exactly what he deserves if he did it.

KING: If he did it, Mark, what happens in prison?

GERAGOS: You know, if they - if he - they don't make a distinction, frankly, once you are in prison. There's not a lot of inmates doing kangaroo courts to determine whether or not you are guilty or not. The mere accusation, and especially in Orange County, they have a policy where when you are in the courtroom they will not even announce the charge if it is a 288, which is a child molest or it's a child murder. They won't even announce it in the courtroom for fear.

KING: Do they have to keep him in a special place?

GERAGOS: They keep him in a special keep-away area. They have got a special segregated unit in the Orange County jail down there. And they will attempt to do whatever they can to protect him. He doesn't have much of a chance in terms of that. It's really, the odds are overwhelming that people who are accused of these crimes or convicted of these do not last a long time. The fact in this case, the facts that are going to either acquit or convict him are going to come down to the forensics. If they've got under this little girl's finger nails DNA and forensic evidence, this guy is toast.

KING: We'll be back with some more moments as we go to break. Here's Sheriff Carona.


KING: Joining us now from Stanton, California is Sheriff Mike Carona, who is in charge of this investigation. It's been quite a day for you, Sheriff. I know you can't get into particular points in evidence and the like, but you said the key turning point was the media and the public. Meaning?

CARONA: Yes, sir. Well, Larry, I got to tell you, all of you who have been following this episode, this case, have been fantastic to us. The media has not only been getting out a description of the potential suspect and the suspect vehicle, but you've been giving out our hotline number. And it was a result of that that we got the series of tips, actually, that led us to Mr. Avila. And then we started the investigative process and were able to make this case.

KING: So the tip came on the tip number given out?

CARONA: Yes, sir.

KING: All right. Sheriff, Dr. John Deirmenjian of the UCLA School of Medicine, a forensic psychiatrist, has a question. DEIRMENJIAN: Yes, Sheriff. I was curious to find out, how is the victim's witness, the friend doing? Because I can only imagine that this poor little child is now embroiled into all the legal aspects of this case. How is she doing?

CARONA: Well, you know, Doctor, I have not sat down with Sarah (ph). We've had members of our department with her, as well as people from the trauma intervention program. They've been working with Sarah. The reports that I get back is that she's doing remarkably well for a 5-year-old who had her best friend taken right before her eyes.

I mentioned at the press conference, one of Sarah's comments that she threw out, she knows now that Samantha is in heaven with Jesus. And I don't know how a little girl has that kind of strength and fortitude, but she seems to be doing very well, sir.

KING: Sheriff, Nancy Grace, who is an anchor for "Trial Heat" on Court TV, I'm sure you've seen her on this program, she has a question for you as well. Nancy?

GRACE: Hi, Sheriff. No. 1, I know that the family has gotten some small degree of peace from this arrest, and I know that they thank you for that. My question tonight is, my mind has already leaped ahead to trial, if there is a trial. And I am wondering if there were other neighbors that may have seen the suspect or his car, that can back up Sarah's description?

CARONA: Well, Nancy, my mind is also jumping forward to the trial at this point. I can tell you that we have a lot of investigative data and we're now turning that over to the district attorney's office. I can't comment on that. But I can tell you that early on, we didn't have any confirmation other than Sarah as to who the suspect might be and what the suspect vehicle might look like.

KING: And by the way, Sheriff, that was an uncanny description she gave, wasn't it?

CARONA: It's amazing. As you watch this case unfold, Larry, you'll see some very interesting things. And you'll be even more impressed with Sarah.

KING: All right, Sheriff, in San Francisco is Marc Klaas. As you know, his 12-year-old daughter Polly was abducted and murdered almost 10 years ago. He has an organization called KlaasKids, an advocate for child protection. He has a question too. Marc?

KLAAS: Well, Sheriff, first of all, congratulations on a phenomenal job of bringing this monster in. My question is very simple, you responded immediately and you didn't miss a beat. Did you work from a prepared protocol? And if you did, where did you get it so that other law enforcement officials can take advantage of it? And if you didn't, would you please put it down on paper so they can use it?

CARONA: Well, Marc, first, thank you for the compliment. The men and women of the sheriff's department, the FBI and local law enforcement really did a magnificent job in putting this case together.

We didn't have a prepared protocol. We had prepared protocol for, as you well know, a care alert so that we can get information out quickly to the media when a child is abducted, and we utilized that. We have tactical response plans that are in play. But nobody prepares for something of this magnitude. A lot of it, we were just getting into the emergency operation center, pulling all the resources we could together, storyboarding this out and asking for resources as quickly as possible to make sure that we stayed on this and kept moving forward, and we could get this person into custody as quickly as possible.

KING: And finally, we only have a minute and a half left. Mark Geragos, defense attorney who has been with us on many nights, has a statement or a question, Sheriff -- Mark.

GERAGOS: Sheriff, I was just going to ask without revealing what it is, did you wait today to make the announcement until you had some kind of forensic confirmation, forensic evidence confirmation?

CARONA: Well, we started early this morning. I have only had a couple of hours of sleep. We worked through the night. And early this morning, we met with the investigative teams, looked at what they had. And by 9:00 -- just before the press conference at 10:00, we made a decision that we'd make the arrest on Mr. Avila. We couldn't give much information about that because there was still more investigative leads and forensic leads to go through. By 6:00 tonight, I can tell you that I'm 100 percent confident he is the man who kidnapped and murdered Samantha Runnion.

KING: Sheriff, we salute you, yeoman like work. You've become a national symbol. And I know if your schedule works out, as you told us, you'll be here Monday night right in studio and we'll do a whole program with you. And thank you.

CARONA: Larry, thank you for all your help.

KING: That was Sheriff Mike Carona, who started this program tonight with that conference, and will be with us Monday night, if his schedule works out, he'll be right here in the studio. We thank Marc Klaas and Dr. John Deirmenjian and Nancy Grace and Mark Geragos and Jeff Collins of the "Orange County Register." We'll be calling upon them again.

When we come back, we'll tell you what's coming this weekend on "LARRY KING WEEKEND." Don't go away.


KING: Want some laughs? We could use some laughs. Watch tomorrow night, "LARRY KING WEEKEND." Ed McMahon looks at the career of Johnny Carson with loads of tape. Sunday night, the cast of "Everybody Loves Raymond." And we hope Sheriff Caruso (sic) will be with us on Monday night. That's Carona. I'm sorry. I was thinking of Caruso because somehow I was thinking of New York. Caruso, "NYPD Blue" and, of course, "NEWSNIGHT."




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