Student's Killer Given 69 Years
By Rene Romo - Abqjournal.com
May 4, 2007
LAS CRUCES— Gabriel
Avila was sentenced to 69 years in prison after pleading guilty
Thursday to the 2003 rape and murder of New Mexico State
University graduate student Katie Sepich.
State District Judge
Douglas Driggers ordered Avila, a 27-year-old Mexican national, to
serve the sentence after finishing a nine-year sentence he is now
serving on an unrelated 2004 conviction for aggravated burglary.
The case was the
impetus for a new state law requiring many suspects to provide DNA
samples to authorities.
Public defender Mark
Earnest urged Driggers to be lenient and said Avila was
Avila asked to be able
to apologize face-to-face to Sepich's family, something Earnest
said was unprecedented in his 14 years as an attorney.
Susana Martinez argued that Avila waited more than three years
after the slaying to confess and did so only when detectives
confronted him with DNA evidence.
Avila will not be
eligible for parole until after serving 30 years for his murder
roommate and family members urged the judge to keep Avila behind
bars as long as possible.
"We do not get another
chance to see her (Katie) in this life, and it is only right that
the person who did this to her not get a chance to experience
freedom again in his life," the victim's father, David Sepich,
Katie Sepich, who was
22 and from Carlsbad, was last seen leaving a party for a
two-block walk to her home on Las Cruces' east side. Her body was
discovered later that day, Aug. 31, 2003, at the city's former
Avila was not
identified as a suspect until mid-December 2006, when his DNA came
up as a match to evidence collected from under Sepich's
fingernails and from her body.
confessed that he encountered Sepich as he drove in the Roadrunner
Parkway area and almost struck her with his truck as she walked
Avila said he followed
Sepich home and approached her as she tried to get into her rented
house through a bedroom window. She had left her keys at the
Avila said he "lost
it," grabbed Sepich, raped her outside her bedroom window and then
strangled her with his hands, Martinez said. Avila then placed
Sepich's body in his truck, deposited her body at the old dump,
and used alcohol to try to burn her body.
The Friday before she
was killed, Katie Sepich spent a relaxed day with her roommate,
Tracee Waters, at a Mesilla Valley Mall store looking at a
turquoise ring Sepich hoped her boyfriend would buy her. The two
women were to be bridesmaids in a friend's wedding, and Waters'
mother was in Las Cruces to assemble gowns with fabric the
roommates had bought.
Sepich's parents pushed the passage last year of a state law
requiring that DNA samples to be taken from adults arrested for
certain felonies, including murder, sex crimes and robbery. Dubbed
Katie's Law, it expanded the requirements for DNA samples.
Police Get Break In Katie Sepich Murder
December 22, 2006
The Dona Ana County sheriff and district
attorney announced on Friday that a convicted felon, from his
prison cell, confessed to the murder of Katie Sepich.
Police said Gabriel Adrian Avila, 27, confessed
after his DNA matched DNA found on Sepich's body. Avila is being
charged with capital murder and rape.
"It means everything to the family to finally
have a name of the person that will be found hopefully responsible
for the death of Katie," said District Attorney Susana Martinez.
Avila is a Mexican national who has been an
inmate in the New Mexico Corrections System since November 2004.
He was sentenced to nine years for aggravated burglary and intent
to commit aggravated assault. He was arrested for that crime in
November 2003, just three months after Sepich was murdered.
And more than three years after her death,
Martinez said a sample of Avila's DNA practically solved the case.
"DNA was taken from him two months ago because
all prisoners have to submit to DNA. It was tested and came back
as a match," said Martinez.
Since 1997, New Mexico has required that felons
provide DNA samples in the hopes those samples will help solve
more crimes. Because of her parents' efforts, Sepich's unsolved
murder led this year's New Mexico Legislature to expand the number
of people who must provide DNA samples to include anyone who's
arrested on a violent felony charge.
Katie's Law, as it's called, takes effect Jan.
1. The samples will be placed into a database for comparison to
DNA samples associated with unsolved crimes.
"Without that sample, that was one of the
things that led us to the suspect in the first place," said Dona
Ana Sheriff Todd Garrison.
After the match, investigators questioned
Avila, who not only confessed to the crime but provided them with
details about the murder only he could have known. He told
investigators he raped and killed Sepich outside her bedroom
window in the early-morning hours of Aug. 31, 2003.
Investigators said she went to a party the
night before and left the party after midnight. She wasn't seen
Investigators also have located and seized the
truck believed to have been used to transport Sepich's body to the
desert east of Las Cruces. 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 right had been left
in the truck.
The ring and the truck are being processed for
"I've always known that this case could be
solved and just knew it," said Garrison.
Martinez said if Katie's Law had been in effect
in 2003, Avila would have been brought to justice much sooner.
Dave Sepich, Katie's father, said his biggest
fear was that someone else would have to die at the hands of
Katie's murderer. But now he can put that fear at ease.
"It was like, were we dreaming that this was
actually happening. We had become pretty resolved with the fact
that we may never know," said Sepich.
For three years they've known the details of
their daughter's murder, how she died, how she was only a few
steps away from getting home before she was raped and many more.
One question surrounding the case was if she knew her killer.
"He saw Katie walking home and followed her,
then murdered her. It was totally random she didn't know him and
he didn't know her," said Sepich.
Now, they have a name to the person who has
changed their lives forever.
"We're especially grateful because Christmas
has been a sad time for us since Katie died," said Sepich.
This Christmas will be different. Katie would
have been 26-years-old on Tuesday. Her parents are grateful that
investigators never gave up.
"She was never forgotten. No one ever gave up,"
said Jayann, Katie's mother.
Jayann said there's no such thing as closure,
but she's ready to move on.
"We've been healing we've been going forward
with our lives. We have two other incredible children we love so
much. But this will allow us to heal in a way we couldn't have
otherwise," said Jayann.
Suspect confesses to Sepich murder from his
December 22, 2006
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
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
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
More than 100 people were interviewed during
the course of the investigation, which attracted national media
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
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
“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
Katie Sepich Murder Not Solved One Year
Aug. 29, 2004
This Tuesday will mark the one year anniversary
of the death of NMSU student Katie Sepich.
There have been no arrests and very few leads
in the case.
The body of 22-year old Katie Sepich was found
at an old dump near Las Cruces last August 31st.
Sepich was last seen leaving a party in the
early morning hours her body found later that day.
Investigators say they are looking for a person
A man wanted for the abduction, torture and
rape of a Green Bay, Wisconsin woman.
District Attorney, Susana Martinez says the
lack of progress is frustrating but they continue to follow every
"But we are also going to be following all
other leads that come their way so they are not going to zero in
on one individual definitely not, they will investigate every lead
that comes their way," said District Attorney Susana Martinez.
Martinez says already tens of thousands of
dollars have been spent on DNA tests.
Investigators Confirm How An NMSU Student
Autopsy Confirms NMSU Student Was Strangled
September 3, 2003
For most of the day, Sheriff's investigators
combed for clues in the same neighborhood where 22-year old Katie
Sepich was last believed to be walking home from a party near her
home early Sunday morning.
Autopsy results now reveal that Katie, an NMSU
graduate student, was strangled.
Her body was found Sunday morning in the desert
just east of Las Cruces. Investigators say she had been raped and
then her body was dumped here sometime during the night.
As we first told you, Katie's family remains in
shock over the news of her death. Her father-- David Sepich---
spoke to us from Carlsbad about his daugther and why he believes
she felt safe enough to walk home that night.
He says she felt comfortable walking home 2 or
3 blocks to her house in a good neighborhood, and that is when she
In the quiet Las Cruces neighborhood where
Katie lived many are also grieving her loss.
"My heart just broke. I was driving in tears
just thinking of the father coming up here-- having to identify
the body," Valerie Ruiz says the tragedy has now sparked concern
for her and many other neighbors.
Meantime, Sheriff's investigators say they are
still looking for suspects and they ask the public for help with
New Information On Brutal
Death Of Katie Sepich
September 3, 2003
She had a great big smile and great big eyes.
She was the kind of girl that when she walked into the room, she
just lit the room up. She was the center of attention, she was the
life of the party. Thats how Dave Sepich, father of New Mexico
State Student Katie Sepich, remembers his daughter.
The Sepich family remains in shock over the
news of Katies death. As weve reported, Katies body was found
Sunday morning just east of Las Cruces. Though the Sheriffs
Department is not yet releasing much information into the cause of
death, they are saying that she appears to have been sexually
assaulted. They also say she was not killed with a gun.
Tuesday, Katies father Dave Sepich spoke by
telephone with KFOX News at Nine. He says his daughter was
hardworking. She had worked in her familys business since she was
thirteen, and was working to pay her own way through New Mexico
State. Eventually, she planned to pursue a career in marketing or
in media communications. Its just amazing now that were learning
the breath of how many peoples lives she touched, much more than
we ever imagined, said her father.
It was in the area of east Las Cruces where
Katie and some of her friends went to a party last Saturday night.
Sheriffs deputies say that some point around three oclock in the
morning, Katie left the party without her friends, and without her
boyfriend, though no one seems to know why. There were about 50 to
60 people at the party, and deputies say it was in the three
blocks between the party and her house, that Katie disappeared.
As the Sepich family continues to wait for
justice, Dave Sepich wants the public to know that they are the
ones who may hold the key to who is responsible. Any information
at all, even though they may not think its important, wed
appreciate people to come forward.
Katie's Law, also known as the Katie
Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010, is a proposed federal
law to provide funding to states to implement minimum and enhanced
DNA collection processes for felony arrests. The bill is named
after Katie Sepich, who was brutally attacked outside of her New
Mexico home in August 2003. She was raped, strangled, her body set
on fire, and abandoned at an old dump site.
Katie's attacker's skin and blood were found
under her fingernails. This DNA profile was sent to the Combined
DNA Index System (CODIS) where officials hoped a match would be
made. A DNA match identified Gabriel Adrian Avila, who had been
arrested in November 2003 for aggravated burglary and was serving
time in the New Mexico Corrections System since November 2004.
After being confronted with his DNA evidence, Avila subsequently
confessed to the murder of Sepich.
The experience of Katie's parents, Jayann and
Dave Sepich, in bringing Katie's killer to justice motivated them
to advocate for legislation that would expand the use of DNA to
arrest and convict criminals:
Jayann and Dave Sepich, Katie's parents,
began researching the role of DNA in solving crimes. At first
they just wanted to find and punish the person who had murdered
their daughter; but as they learned more about how DNA can solve
crimes, they also learned it could do so much more–it can
prevent crimes and save lives.
The proposed legislation encourages states to
collect a sample through DNA profiling from individuals who are:
arrested for, charged with or indicted for crimes involving
murder, manslaughter, sexual assaults, and kidnapping or
abduction. The collected samples are included in CODIS which
contains more than 5 million records and used by law enforcement
agencies. DNA profiling is not the same as full genome sequencing
and contains no genetic information. There are over 3 billion
markers in the DNA molecule and only 13 of these markers go into
Taking DNA samples upon arrest has been shown
to prevent violent crimes. A study prepared by the Office of the
Governor of Maryland identified 20 violent crimes that could have
been prevented if DNA samples had been required upon arrest for
just three individuals. In Colorado, the Denver District
Attorney’s Office released a study of 47 violent crimes that could
have been prevented if DNA had been collected upon felony arrest
for five individuals.
Susana Martinez was the attorney that
prosecuted and convicted the killer. While she was District
Attorney, Martinez worked to pass the legislation that would
expand Katie's Law. This would "require a DNA sample for all
felony arrests." While Governor of New Mexico, Martinez signed the
expansion bill into law in April 2011.
On February 4, 2010 Congressman Harry Teague
(D-NM) introduced H.R. 4614.
The bill has 11 co-sponsors:
On May 18, the bill was passed in the House by
a vote of 357 to 32.
In the Senate side, S. 3805 was introduced by
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) on September 20, 2010 and co-sponsored
by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen.
Tom Udall (D-NM).
24 states have passed Katie's Law or similar
In an interview aired on America's Most Wanted,
President Obama expressed his support for the legislation, saying
that "it is the right thing to do," and that "this is where the
national registry becomes so important, because what you have is
individual states — they may have a database, but if they’re not
sharing it with the state next door, you’ve got a guy from
Illinois driving over into Indiana, and they’re not talking to
Some opponents argue that this policy is an
invasion of privacy or a violation of civil rights. Others comment
that since DNA contains sensitive genetic information it is quite
different from fingerprints.
A federal district court, in the United States
v. Pool, upheld that the federal statute allowing collection of
DNA samples prior to conviction for inclusion in the national DNA
database does not represent a violation of constitutional rights.
In issuing its ruling, the court specifically held that the
collection does not represent a violation of 4th Amendment rights.
The court also dismissed claims of violations of 5th and 8th
amendment rights. High courts in Maryland, and Virginia, also
ruled that DNA upon arrest does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Maryland later reversed itself.