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A Cold Case of Cold-Blooded Murder

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Sheila Weller has this article in the NYT on the long-overdue sentencing of the man who murdered her cousin, Ellen Hover, in 1977.

The man is Rodney Alcala.  He won't do time in Sing Sing.  He heads back to San Quentin to wait out the appeals from his third death sentence for killing 12-year-old Robin Samsoe in California.

Over the years Rodney Alcala's lawyers managed to twice overturn, on technicalities, his conviction for the murder of Robin Samsoe. He aggressively fought the use of DNA evidence against him, but ultimately lost. Finally, in February 2010, a jury re-re-convicted him of the murder of Robin Samsoe, along with the other four California women. He has not stopped fighting his execution sentence and suing the state for things like failing to provide him with a low-fat diet.

Since Ellen was killed, both of her parents have died; her brother has died; her aunt, my mother, has died. In all those years, Rodney Alcala was never charged with her murder. Many of Ellen's friends and family members felt a measure of justice when he was convicted in California in 2010 -- at least we felt it was the best we could ask for. We acted as if those acknowledged victims included Ellen: we wrote one another e-mails with exclamation points and thanked the Orange County prosecutor, Matt Murphy. But there was no trial for Ellen, and I don't think anyone ever expected there would be. I certainly didn't.
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Every victim deserves her own day in court, no matter what else the culprit has been arrested for, no matter how long ago the crime: this is the pure integrity of opening a cold case. There are hundreds of thousands of cold cases in the United States. Approximately 14 percent of all unsolved homicide cases and 18 percent of unsolved sexual assault cases contain forensic evidence that has not been sent to a crime lab for analysis.
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In a Manhattan courtroom last month, Rodney Alcala, now 69, pleaded guilty to Ellen's and Cornelia Crilley's murders. After 35 and 41 years -- much longer than the young women lived -- he pleaded out, just like that. It was the first time in his long criminal history that he had ever confessed to a killing. The collapse of his resistance seemed taunting to all of us: Sure I killed them. What took you guys so long?

On Monday I attended his sentencing. At one point, the judge broke down, saying she had never had before her a case with such brutality and hoped she would never again. The sentence for the two murders was, of course, symbolic -- a concurrent 25 years to life. The important punishment will take place in San Quentin when Rodney Alcala is finally executed -- if he ever is.

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That Alcala still breathes is an affront. Jerry Brown not only thinks he should live, but will actively work to keep him alive.

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