California's highest court has cleared the way for a convicted serial killer to be brought to New York to face charges in two 1970s killings.
It wasn't clear Thursday when Rodney Alcala, who's awaiting execution in California for five 1970s stranglings, might be brought to a Manhattan court, though the arrangements could take a few weeks. The California Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected his bid to block extradition, according to court records.
A former amateur photographer and TV dating-show contestant who represented himself at his latest trial, the 68-year-old Alcala has been behind bars since his 1979 arrest in California. After a convoluted trail of trials, overturned convictions and bizarre courtroom moments, he was convicted in 2010 of strangling four women and a 12-year-old girl in Southern California. Prosecutors said the killings were accompanied by sexual abuse and torture.
Then the Manhattan district attorney charged Alcala with murdering two 23-year-old women here, one in 1971 and the other in 1978. Alcala had long been suspected in at least one of the deaths. In August, New York's and California's governors signed off on bringing him to New York to face the charges.
Through a lawyer, Alcala argued that being sent to New York would undermine his efforts to appeal his California conviction and death sentence. He said he needed to be at hearings and do other preparatory work himself because he had acted as his own lawyer — a move that produced a defense that entailed showing a TV clip of himself on a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game" and playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant."
Alcala's "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 California attorney general's office said Alcala could work on his appeal just as well from New York City's Rikers Island jail complex as on death row at San Quentin State Prison, particularly since he has an appellate lawyer.
Death penalty appeals generally take years, and "it cannot be seriously argued that New York must await a further prolonged delay" before getting a chance to try Alcala in crimes already more than 30 years old, lawyers in Attorney General Kamala Harris' office wrote in November.
Harris' office and Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr.'s office had no immediate comment Thursday. Alcala's lawyer didn't immediately respond to a telephone message.
In New York, Alcala is charged in the 1971 strangling of flight attendant Cornelia Crilley and the death of Ellen Hover, daughter of a onetime Hollywood nightclub owner. She disappeared in 1977; her remains were found the next year in the woods on a suburban estate.
A New York conviction wouldn't affect Alcala's sentence in California, but Manhattan prosecutors have noted that a conviction here could essentially be insurance for law enforcement in case Alcala wins yet another California appeal. Alcala likely would be sent back to California's death row if convicted.
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