Calif. AG: Let NY try convicted '70s serial killer

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Posted: Nov 30, 2011 7:05 PM
Calif. AG: Let NY try convicted '70s serial killer

It's time for New York prosecutors to get a chance to press 1970s murder charges against a convicted serial killer on California's death row, California authorities say in urging a court to OK his extradition.

Rodney Alcala _ a former amateur photographer and TV dating-show contestant who's facing execution in five other `70s stranglings in California _ is fighting to avoid being brought to New York to face recently filed charges in two slayings from that decade. Alcala's lawyers have said he needs to stay in California to work on his appeal, arguing that there's preparatory work only he can do because he acted as his own attorney in his sometimes bizarre trial last year.

But California Attorney General Kamala Harris says Alcala can do what's needed from a New York City jail, and Manhattan prosecutors shouldn't have to wait.

"Appeals from death judgments notoriously take years to litigate," Harris and Deputy Attorney General Peter H. Smith wrote in papers filed this month in Superior Court in California's Marin County. "It cannot seriously be argued that New York must await a further prolonged delay regarding (Alcala's appeal) before they can try him for the crimes he is charged with there _ crimes which were committed before the ones (Alcala) has already been convicted of in California."

The Marin County Public Defender's office, which is representing Alcala in his bid to halt the extradition, didn't immediately return a call Wednesday.

Alcala, 68, has been behind bars since his 1979 arrest in California, but his case there has been a saga of trials and overturned convictions. At his latest trial last year, prosecutors told a grisly story laced with sexual abuse and torture, while he offered a defense that included playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant" and showing a TV clip of himself on a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game." A jury found him guilty of strangling four women and a 12-year-old girl in California.

Then Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced in January that Alcala had been indicted in the separate murders of two 23-year-old women here _ the 1971 strangling of flight attendant Cornelia Crilley and the death of Ellen Hover, a onetime Hollywood nightclub owner's daughter whose remains were found in 1978 after she disappeared the year before. Alcala had been eyed as a suspect in Hover's death since at least 1979; prosecutors said new technology and information that emerged in the California trial helped them put together a case.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed off in August on bringing Alcala to New York.

But Alcala and his lawyers say moving him to New York could compromise his appeal.

He'd have a harder time conferring with his court-appointed appeals lawyers from across the country, they say. They also argue that he needs to be in California to attend potential hearings on the accuracy of the trial transcript. Since he chose not to have an attorney for his trial, he's the only defense representative who can weigh in on whether the transcript needs correcting, he and his current lawyers say.

"His ability to defend against ... impending execution should be given precedence over New York's wish to prosecute" him on charges carrying a maximum potential sentence of life in prison, Michael G. Millman, who runs the nonprofit California Appellate Project, wrote in court papers in October.

But the attorney general says Alcala can raise any concerns about the transcript in writing or through his appellate lawyers, and he can get legal materials and confer with lawyers by phone or mail from a New York jail. Other California death row inmates also have out-of-state lawyers, Harris noted.

It's unclear when a judge may rule.

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