'The face of evil': judge chokes back tears as man dubbed 'The Dating Game Killer' sentenced
There was the 12-year-old girl who disappeared while riding her bike to a ballet lesson. The 18-year-old nurses' aide who was raped, strangled and beaten with a rock. And the 27-year-old nurse who was strangled with a stocking and beaten with a hammer.
Justice Bonnie Wittner's stoic demeanour began to give way with the recounting of each killing, committed in California by the wizened man standing before her in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
It was overwhelming, and it meant a lot to me. I've actually never, ever, even on television, seen a judge cry.
The man, Rodney Alcala, a one-time contestant on The Dating Game television show and since dubbed "The Dating Game Killer", was appearing before Wittner to be sentenced for two murders in New York, to which he pleaded guilty last month.
Killed ... Cornelia Crilley, left, and Ellen Hover. Photo: Reuters
"This kind of case is something I've never experienced, hope to never again," Wittner said before losing her composure.
The judge, who has heard all manner of mayhem in New York's criminal courts in her three decades here, paused for a long moment, sobbing, before continuing.
"I just want to say I hope the families find some peace and solace," the judge said.
Serial killer ... Rodney Alcala. Photo: Reuters
She called the crimes inexplicably brutal and horrific before sentencing Alcala to 25 years to life, following the terms of his plea agreement, in the 1971 murder of Cornelia Crilley and the 1977 murder of Ellen Hover.
Crilley, a flight attendant, was raped and strangled in her new apartment on the Upper East Side. Hover, a painter and pianist who dreamed of going to medical school, vanished in the summer of 1977; her remains were found nearly a year later on the Rockefeller estate in Westchester County.
The cold case unit of the Manhattan district attorney's office brought charges against Alcala last year after conducting more than 100 new interviews with witnesses.
Tears ... a woman reacts after convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for murdering two New York women in the 1970s. Photo: Reuters
"Rodney Alcala is the face of evil. He has been responsible for so much death, so much loss and unbearable pain," Assistant District Attorney Alex Spiro told the court.
Alcala, 69, appeared in court with his long, curly grey hair spilling over an orange jumpsuit. He declined to speak to the judge in a courtroom crowded with the victims' friends and relatives.
In all likelihood, Alcala will never serve his New York sentence. He has been convicted and sentenced to death in five killings in California from the 1970s.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said the conviction here would ensure that Alcala would never see freedom, even if his California convictions were overturned. He noted that the loved ones of Hover and Crilley kept their memories alive, just as cold-case investigators kept the case alive.
In a statement read by Spiro, Hover's sister, Charlotte Rosenberg, said her father, who was Hover's stepfather, had falsely told news organisations that Hover was an "heiress" in an attempt to keep attention focused on her death.
Hover "chose to see the good in everyone she met because she had such a huge and open heart". the statement said
Hover's death caused her estranged brother to become addicted to drugs and commit suicide and caused her mother to drink alcohol excessively to the point of developing dementia which slowly killed her, the statement continued.
"You broke my parents' heart. They never really recovered," Crilley's sister Katie Stigell told the court. "It saddens me to think that that pretty smile of hers, you [Alcala] were the last one to see it."
Outside court, Stigell said she was "so very surprised" that the judge had been moved to tears.
"It was overwhelming, and it meant a lot to me," Stigell said. "I've actually never, ever, even on television, seen a judge cry."
The New York Times and Reuters