Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2016 – 3:18 PM
(CNS) – One of the prosecutors key to convicting the man responsible for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion of Stanton in 2002 has died, officials said today.
Services are pending for Assistant District Attorney Camille Hill, who died last Friday, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Hill, a Texas native, graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and worked as a criminalist for Houston police after graduation. She later continued her education at UC Berkeley, where she earned a law degree in 1987.
She clerked for the Orange County District Attorney while in law school and after getting her degree, she went to work as a prosecutor.
In 2000, she was key to forming the Innocence Project, which reviews claims from convicts who believe forensic evidence will clear them.
“It was as important to Camille that innocent people be exonerated as it was that guilty people be convicted,” said Denise Gragg of the Orange County Associate Defender’s Office, who was Avila’s attorney. “That, more than her ferocious intellect and her untiring dedication to her work, is what made her a great prosecutor.”
Hill’s expertise in forensics had her assigned to high profile cases that relied on DNA evidence, the District Attorney’s Office reported. One of the biggest cases was the prosecution of Alejandro Avila for the murder of Samantha Runnion.
Hill “broke new ground” in winning the admissibility of a certain kind of DNA evidence in Avila’s trial, said Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Contini, who worked with Hill in the DNA unit. Avila grabbed the girl as she frolicked with a 6-year-old friend outside her family’s condominium on July 15, 2002. The girl’s body was found the next day near Ortega Highway and Killen Truck Trail.
Avila, 41, was sentenced to death in July 2005.
Hill also was credited with being a key author of Proposition 69, which expanded how many defendants could be required to provide genetic material for a database that could be used to solve cold cases, prosecutors said.
Since 2014, Hill was in charge of the District Attorney’s DNA unit.
Hill “had this perspective nobody else had” because she was a scientist and an attorney, Contini said.
“It didn’t matter who it helped or hurt” when it came to DNA evidence, Contini said. “She was always just concerned about the truth.”
Hill was family-oriented, Contini said.
“Her family was everything to her,” Contini said.
She had a passion for collecting vintage sewing machines and sewing as well as gumball machines and popcorn makers, Contini said.
She was “certified to repair cares” and loved riding motorcycles, Contini said.
“She was really just a unique individual,” Contini said. “She would decorate cakes, she made the best guacamole ever and she took care of the office. She would feed everybody. She was just such a good person.”