A convicted serial killer sentenced to death in five grisly stranglings in California is fighting to avoid being brought to New York to face new charges in two 1970s murders here, saying he needs to work on his appeal more than New York authorities need to prosecute him.
Rodney Alcala says he needs to stay on California's Death Row to work on his appeal _ especially because he represented himself in a sometimes surreal southern California trial last year.
Extraditing Alcala to New York "pits his right to a meaningful capital appeal against a non-death penalty case in another state that is more than 30 years old," public defenders wrote on his behalf in court papers filed last month in California's Marin County. Authorities haven't yet responded, and a judge's decision is months away.
Alcala's move marks the latest turn in authorities' decades-long legal joust with the former amateur photographer and TV dating-show contestant, who's said to have an IQ that tops 160.
Initially arrested in California in 1979, he was found guilty twice in one of the California killings and had both verdicts overturned before his latest conviction last year. It came after a trial where prosecutors depicted him as a killer with a habit of sexually abusing and torturing his victims, and Alcala offered a diffuse defense that included questioning one victim's mother, playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant" and showing a TV clip of himself on a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game."
Meanwhile, Alcala had been suspected in one of the New York cases for more than 30 years before Manhattan prosecutors announced in January that they had finally gotten an indictment in the two cases here _ the 1971 strangling of a flight attendant and the death of a Hollywood nightclub owner's daughter whose remains were found in 1978 after she disappeared the year before.
While Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. faced questions about expense and point of prosecuting an out-of-state prisoner already sentenced to die, he said the New York women's cases deserved to be pursued and he was determined to bring Alcala to New York.
"The ends of justice require the arrest and return of Alcala to this state," Vance wrote in an extradition request in May. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on the move in August.
But Alcala and lawyers working with him say he needs to stay in California to prepare for his appeal by reviewing the trial transcript for accuracy and participating in any related hearings _ defense work only he can do because he chose not to have a lawyer for the trial, he and his advocates say. They note that his life may ultimately be at stake.
"His ability to defend against . . . impending execution should be given precedence over New York's wish to prosecute" him on charges carrying a maximum of life in prison, Michael G. Millman, who runs the nonprofit California Appellate Project, wrote to accompany Alcala's Oct. 24 filing in Superior Court in Marin County, where he's being held in San Quentin State Prison.
The Marin County Public Defender's office, which filed Alcala's bid to halt the extradition, didn't immediately return a call Thursday. State Attorney General Kamala Harris's office has several weeks to respond. The Manhattan DA's office declined to comment.
Alcala, now 68, was convicted of strangling four women and a 12-year-old girl in California. He raped one victim with a claw-toothed hammer and posed several victims nude in sexual positions after their deaths, prosecutors said.
After last year's conviction, authorities released more than 100 photos of young women and girls found in Alcala's storage locker, and prosecutors said authorities were looking into whether Alcala could be connected to cases in New York and other states.
He's now charged in New York with killing Cornelia Crilley, a Trans World Airlines flight attendant found raped and strangled with a pair of stockings in her Manhattan apartment, and Ellen Hover, whose remains were found in the woods on a suburban estate. Hover, who had studied biology and music, was the daughter of comedy writer Herman Hover, a former owner of the one-time Hollywood hotspot Ciro's. Both women were 23.
Dearen reported from San Rafael, Calif. Associated Press writer Amy Taxin contributed to this report from Santa Ana, Calif.