SANTA ANA, Calif. — Relatives of four women and a 12-year-old girl who were brutally slain in the late 1970s exploded in applause Tuesday as the jury recommended death for Rodney Alcala, a convicted serial killer whose bizarre defense strategy included lyrics from an Arlo Guthrie song and showing an episode of "The Dating Game."
Jurors took just an hour to return the death recommendation after a six-week trial in which the 66-year-old Alcala – who was representing himself – grilled the mother of one of his victims, cross-examined police investigators and answered his own questions while taking the stand in his own defense.
Alcala has been sentenced to death twice before in the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, but those verdicts were overturned on appeal.
Prosecutors refiled charges in that case and added the four other murders in 2006 after investigators linked them to Alcala using DNA samples and other forensic evidence. Those cases, which had gone unsolved for decades, went on trial for the first time this year.
Alcala, an amateur photographer and UCLA graduate, focused his entire defense on the Samsoe case and ignored the murders of the four Los Angeles County women murdered between 1977 and 1979.
Samsoe's surviving siblings, now in their mid-40s, thanked the jury and said they were glad to see the other families get closure after years of not knowing who had killed their loved ones.
"Thirty-six people now have convicted him of death and that's a great feeling knowing that Robin did not die for nothing. We took a monster off the street, we've got closure for other families who didn't have it," said Robin's older brother, 44-year-old Robert Samsoe. "This is a joyous occasion."
Alcala gave his own closing arguments earlier Tuesday, telling jurors that a death recommendation would make them "de facto killers" and "wannabe killers in waiting."
He then played a piece of Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant," in which the narrator tries to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War by trying to convince a psychiatrist that he's unfit for the military because of his supposed extreme desire to kill.
"I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth," the song's narrator sings. "Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean: kill, kill, kill, kill."
Robert Samsoe stalked out of court as the song was played.
Juror Greg Lacey said the lyrics had a chilling effect on the panel – but not the one Alcala had hoped for.
"It didn't make sense to us. We're sitting there doing our duty, we're not out there stalking someone," Lacey said, adding that the gruesome evidence in the case gave him many sleepless nights.
Choosing the death penalty "was something we had to do as part of a civilized society," he said.
Robin Samsoe of Huntington Beach was kidnapped while riding a bicycle to ballet class on June 20, 1979. Her body was found 12 days later in the Angeles National Forest, where it had been mutilated by wild animals.
Alcala was arrested a month after Samsoe's disappearance when his parole agent recognized him from a police sketch and called authorities. Alcala has been in custody ever since.
He was first tried in Samsoe's murder in 1980. Prosecutors added the murders of the four women in 2006 after investigators discovered forensic evidence linking him to those crimes, including DNA found on three of the women, a bloody handprint and marker testing done on blood Alcala left on a towel in the fourth victim's home.
The jury convicted Alcala of the murders on Feb. 25, and also found true special-circumstance allegations of rape, torture and kidnapping, making him eligible for the death penalty.
A defense psychiatrist testified during the trial penalty phase last week that Alcala suffers from a borderline personality disorder that could lead to psychotic episodes. Alcala has claimed he doesn't remember some of his actions.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy called the defense psychiatrist's diagnosis "garbage" and argued that Alcala was a remorseless predator who enjoyed killing and kept earrings and other trophies of his victims.
After the verdict Tuesday, Murphy said conceded that Alcala was smart but working with him professionally as his own defense attorney was emotionally taxing.
"It was interesting, but you feel like you've got to take a shower at the end of each day," Murphy said.
During the guilt phase of trial, Alcala's defense took a surreal turn when he played a seconds-long clip of himself on a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game."
He said the grainy clip proved that he was wearing a gold-ball earring almost a year before Samsoe was killed.
Prosecutors said the earring, found in a small pouch with other earrings in a storage locker Alcala had rented, belong to Samsoe and that Alcala had taken it as a trophy. They also found the DNA of another Alcala's victims on a rose-shaped earring in the same pouch.
In addition to Samsoe, Alcala is charged with killing Jill Barcomb, 18, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Oneida, N.Y.; Georgia Wixted, 27, of Malibu; Charlotte Lamb, 32, of Santa Monica; and Jill Parenteau, 21, of Burbank.