Rodney Alcala chose to defend himself at his murder trial, and took the unusual step of cross-examining himself while serving as his own attorney. Video shows Alcala presenting closing arguments in the case of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe.
The little girl, a ballet dancer, was kidnapped and murdered in 1979 in California. Alcala’s story is being featured tonight on ABC 20/20 in a new episode, “The Dating Game Killer,” which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, January 8, 2021. Read on to learn more about the strange trial and see video of his closing arguments.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Bizarre Trial Was the Third Alcala Faced in the Murder of Samsoe
Alcala faced trial three separate times in the murder of Samsoe in Huntington Beach. He was sentenced to death twice before the 2016 trial, but twice, his convictions were reversed on different technicalities. The California Supreme Court reversed the first conviction in 1984 because a jury was permitted to hear about his prior child rape and kidnapping case. In 2001, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out his conviction, in part, because a jury did not hear from a witness about a park ranger being hypnotized by police. That park ranger found the little girl’s body ravaged by animals in the mountains, according to LA Weekly.
The girl disappeared on her way to ballet class riding a yellow Schwinn bicycle. She was memorialized in 2014, 35 years after her death. Her family told The Orange County Register her life was overshadowed by the titillating details of her case and her killer.
“Everybody wants to know about the monster, but now they’re going to know about Robin,” said her brother, Robert Samsoe. “She mattered to people.”
Her headstone describes her as her family’s “little angel” and a “beloved daughter and sister,” according to Find a Grave.
Alcala Questioned Himself in Third Person About His Hair & Alibi, Using a Deep Voice
LA Weekly described the bizarre scene when Alcala questioned himself about the murder of Samsoe. He would use a deeper, authoritative voice to ask himself questions, and sometimes went on tangents about camera lenses. His topics of inquiry included his hair and his alibi.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno warned jurors his decision to act as his own attorney in the trial may create situations that were a “tad awkward.” The newspaper described that as an understatement.
“Rodney will you please tell us about your hair?” he asked himself before giving a lengthy answer, attempting to say his hairdo was different than a composite sketch.
“Ok, Mr. Alcala, can you tell us what you did June 15?” he then asked before spending an entire day describing his alleged whereabouts in the days surrounding the murder.
He said he spent the day before the murder with his sister’s children, which was a typical day for him.
“I dropped off the kids and my sister wasn’t ready, so I took the kids to McDonald’s.” He said, then asked, “Mr. Alcala, what did you do after you left?”
The newspaper said he often became hung up on minutia, like discussing camera lenses and camera speeds, and often became mixed up in presenting exhibits to the jury.
He presented two-hour closing arguments in the case, spending a large amount of time talking about earrings. The Orange County Register reported he was “often rambling,” he was unable to project images from his computer, and struggled to find photos he intended to use as evidence.