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Gabriel Adrian AVILA





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 31, 2003
Date of arrest: December 20, 2006
Date of birth: December 14, 1969
Victim profile: Kathryn "Katie" Sepich, 22
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
Status: Plead guilty. Sentenced to 69 years in prison on May 3, 2007
photo gallery
Statement of Facts / Criminal Complaint (4.8 Mb)

Student's Killer Given 69 Years

By Rene Romo -

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 remorseful.

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.

District 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 conviction.

Sepich's former 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, told Driggers.

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 dump.

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.

Avila subsequently confessed that he encountered Sepich as he drove in the Roadrunner Parkway area and almost struck her with his truck as she walked home.

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 party.

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 again.

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 evidence.

"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 prison cell

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 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.


Katie Sepich Murder Not Solved One Year Later

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 of interest.

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 lead.

"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 Was Murdered

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 disappeared.

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 any leads.


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 CODIS.

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.

Law's expansion

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.

National growth

On February 4, 2010 Congressman Harry Teague (D-NM) introduced H.R. 4614.[5] The bill has 11 co-sponsors:

  • Rep Gerry Connolly (VA)

  • Rep Martin Heinrich (NM)

  • Rep Tim Holden (PA)

  • Rep Steve Kagen (WI)

  • Rep Suzanne Kosmas (FL)

  • Rep Ben Ray Lujan (NM)

  • Rep Betsy Markey (CO)

  • Rep David Reichert (WA)

  • Rep Thomas J. Rooney (FL)

  • Rep Adam B. Schiff (CA)

  • Rep Anthony Weiner (NY)

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 programs.

  • Alabama

  • Alaska

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Florida

  • Kansas

  • Louisiana

  • Maryland

  • Michigan

  • Minnesota

  • Missouri

  • New Mexico

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Ohio

  • South Carolina

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Utah

  • Virginia

  • Vermont

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 each other.


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.



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