I felt compelled to attend Rodney Alcala's sentencing today. I got on my bike and rode down to 100 Center Street. I had been so surprised that he plead guilty to the two murders. Everyone was.
I parked my bike on a fence right near by some of the TV vans. And in front of me on the security line the camera men filed in. Men with equiptment were lined up outside of the courtroom as well. I went in. The room was almost packed, but I found a seat, on the aisle. Many of New York's finest were there, many badges as well as mourners wearing little stickie buttons of Alcala's 1971 victim, Cornelia Criley.
Crilley, a 23 year old flight attendant was murdered just two years after I had my encounter with him on St. Marks Place.
I tucked my helmet under the bench in front of me. The air was heavy. It's not every day New York sentences a serial killer. I overheard the Asst. DA Spiro say to a family member, "As he's already confessed to the murders, there won't be any shenanigans." Alcala has been known to do such things. But we know he's eager to get back to California where he has a computer and library priveliges, so he can work on his case to reverse his position on death row. I'm still trying to understand how a murder can plead guilty just so he can go back to his more cushy jail in St. Quentin. I'm not sure I can manage that rationalization. If they would have given him those rights on the east coast, then he would have defended himself? This does seem to be a circus of injustice.
The public defender, with her steel wool gray hair and handsome face, straight off of a Roman coin was a wee thing who was much taller and formidable in her three inch heels. She walked towards the holding room, each step taken as if she were stamping out a fire. She was called in. She emerged. The judge looked very solemn. Rodney Alcala, his long grey hair, flowing in freshly washed waves, his feet unfettered, unlike the last time I saw him in court. His hands secured behind him, walked lightly into the room not making eye contact.
Speeches: They started, Alcala had his back to them all, of course. And so they spoke to the judge and to the DOC on his orange jumpsuit. Crilley's sister spoke, a simple woman. There was no anger just despair. Trying in a an almost innocent way to make Alcala, a man with an inability for empathy (as we know it) to understand that he just didn't destroy a life, but he broke a family and many lives. Then the assistant DA read the words of Ellen Hover's sister. Ellen was murdered in 1977. The letter was articulate, historical, and made the case for broken lives as well as well for maximum sentence for a man already on death row. No family member showed up the reason given was that they didn't want to bring more attention to Alcala, who does seem to like his share.
Spiro was up next to present the summation he didn't get to. I had this feeling that people needed to have their say, which they were cheated out of when Alcala plead guitly. There was an element of primitivism about it. Spiro gave an overview of Alcala's intense killing history and the brutality of his crimes from presumably his first in 1968 until he was incarcerated in 1977. There was another woman, besides me, who got away. But the other young woman, a fifteen year old, was not as lucky. He brutalized her and raped her before somehow she convinced him not to kill her. When I think how I escaped his apartment, yes, I got lucky.
Justice Bonnie Wittner addressed the now fragile 69 year old. She said she had never had a case such as this in her 30 years on the bench and she hoped she never would again. She choked down tears, failed and tried to gain composure. She sentenced him to the maximum of 25-years per victim. Then it was all over.
Riding home was a shaky affair.