Man Accused of Five Murders Defends His Own Case

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A suspect accused of raping and killing four women, and killing one pre-teen girl, has chosen to represent himself in an Orange County trial.

Rodney Alcala is facing the death penalty for the third time in the murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. He has been not only tried, but convicted, twice before for the kidnapping and murder, but both convictions were reversed on appeal.

In 2001, during the appeals process for his second conviction, Los Angeles County detectives discovered DNA evidence which they claimed would link Alcala to four different women who were raped and killed in the late 1970s.

Although Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno opposed Alcala’s decision to act as his own attorney, he has at times given Alcala advice about the legal process, as has Orange county senior deputy district attorney Matt Murphy, who sometimes helps the defendant with exhibits.

Early on in the trial, Alcala seemed unsure of his role as attorney, declining to ask many questions or make objections. At one point, he only objected to testimony after it was finished, unaware that he was too late to do so.

Yet at times he seems knowledgeable and well spoken. A former student at UCLA, Alcala has been imprisoned since shortly after the murder of Samsoe, in 1979—over thirty years in total.

Alcala was a contestant on the popular television program “The Dating Game,” one year before Samsoe was abducted while riding her bicyclet o a ballet class. The girl’s body was found two weeks later.

Although acting as one’s own attorney is a citizen’s right in the United States, most legal experts agree that defendants are rarely successful in handling their own cases. For death-penalty cases, self-representation is particularly inadvisable.

Some of Alcala’s exchanges with prosecution witnesses have been emotional, especially one round of questions that the defendant lobbed at Samsoe’s mother, Marianne Connolley. Connelly became frustrated after repeated questioning by Alcala about a pair of earrings, which he alleges were his, but which prosecutors say belonged to the pre-teen.

“You know if she had earrings on, don’t you?” Connelly asked Alcala directly. Soon afterwards, the judge requested that the jury vacate the courtroom before speaking directly to the slain girl’s mother.

“It’s going to be a difficult day to come up and take questions from the person that oyu feel is responsible for taking a life,” he said, and then reminded her that Alcala, despite being a suspect in the murder trial, also has certain constitutional rights.

It is extremely rare for a defendant who is facing the death penalty to waive his or her right to professional representation. Alcala has given no reason for acting on his own behalf, and it will be up to the jury in the case to decide whether or not that was a wise choice.

 

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