SUSPECT CONFESSES TO SEPICH MURDER FROM HIS PRISON CELL

SUSPECT CONFESSES TO SEPICH MURDER FROM HIS PRISON CELL

Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd J. Garrison and Third Judicial District Attorney Susana Martinez announced at a press conference today that convicted felon Gabriel Adrian Avila, 27, has confessed to the 2003 rape and murder of Katie Sepich.

Avila, a Mexican national, has been an inmate in the New Mexico Corrections System since November of 2004, when he was sentenced to nine years for aggravated burglary and intent to commit aggravated assault. The offenses occurred in November, 2003, about nine weeks after the Sepich murder.

At the time Avila was processed into the corrections system, his DNA was sampled and set aside for testing. The sample was not tested until a few weeks ago, and it immediately provided a partial match to DNA found on Sepich’s body.

Investigators obtained a search warrant to get a new sample from Avila, and on Dec. 11, the samples matched. Investigators subsequently questioned Avila, who provided details of the murder scene that only he could have known. He soon will be formally charged with capital murder and rape, Martinez said. She said Avila and Sepich had never met until the night of the murder, when he saw her walking home.

Investigators also have located and seized the truck used to transport Sepich’s body from the murder scene to a former dumpsite east of Las Cruces. Avila told investigators he raped and killed Sepich outside her bedroom window in the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003. The truck had been sold, and the new owner consented to its seizure. Investigators also were able to obtain a ring worn by Sepich on the night of the murder. The ring had been left in the truck. Both the truck and the ring are being processed for evidence.

Sepich, 22 at the time, of Carlsbad, was a graduate student of business administration at New Mexico State University. She had attended a party Saturday night, Aug. 30, in the neighborhood of Veterans’ Park. She left the party sometime after midnight.

At about 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, target shooters reported the discovery of a partially clothed body in the desert near the old city dump east of Las Cruces. Doña Ana County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene shortly after noon and began investigating the death as a homicide. In the meantime, Sepich’s roommates reported to police that she had not returned home.

More than 100 people were interviewed during the course of the investigation, which attracted national media attention.

In announcing Avila’s confession, Garrison said several area law-enforcement agencies contributed to the investigation. He singled out the Las Cruces Police Department, the New Mexico State Police and the New Mexico State University Police Department.

After Garrison and Martinez spoke, Sepich’s mother and father – Jayann and Dave Sepich – thanked law enforcement, the Las Cruces community and the media for keeping hope alive that their daughter’s killer could be brought to justice.

“Next Tuesday would have been Katie’s birthday,” Jayann Sepich said. “She would have been 26. This is a very fitting birthday present for our daughter, Katie.”

Jayann Sepich also vowed that she and her husband will continue to work to have Katie’s Law passed in all 50 states as a tribute to their daughter. The law – which takes effect in New Mexico on Jan. 1, 2007 – will require DNA samples to be collected at the time of arrest on any violent felony charges. The samples will be placed into a database for comparison to DNA samples associated with unsolved crimes.

Martinez said that if Katie’s Law had been in effect in 2003, Avila would have been brought to justice much sooner.

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Reporters seeking more information or interviews may call county Public Information Director Jess Williams at (505) 525-5801.