NEW YORK — More than 30 years after their deaths, the man accused of strangling two young women who were making their way in 1970s Manhattan walked slowly into a courtroom Thursday to answer the charges.
His hands and feet shackled and his gray hair in a ponytail, a bespectacled and bemused-looking Rodney Alcala – former photographer, one-time dating-show contestant and convicted California serial killer – said only "not guilty" in a steady voice.
After suspicion swirled around him for years, Alcala was indicted only last year in the killings of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover. While fighting a death sentence in California, he's now being held in New York as prosecutors here pursue a cold case they reopened in the last two years.
The Legal Aid Society, which represented Alcala at Thursday's brief arraignment, declined to discuss the case afterward. He's due back in court Oct. 30.
With an IQ said to top 160, Alcala has spent the last 33 years tangling with California authorities in a series of trials and overturned convictions. He eventually was found guilty in 2010 of killing four women and a 12-year-old girl in Southern California in the 1970s. He represented himself, offering a defense that involved showing a clip of his 1978 appearance on "The Dating Game" and playing Arlo Guthrie's classic 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant."
While pursuing an appeal in California, Alcala was indicted last year in New York, partly on evidence that emerged during his California trial, prosecutors said. He was brought to New York on Wednesday on a U.S. Marshals Service plane after unsuccessfully fighting his extradition to New York.
"After more than three decades, the defendant will finally face the justice system in New York for the murder of two victims," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement Thursday. "Today's arraignment brings us a step closer to obtaining justice for Ms. Crilley and Ms. Hover."
Crilley was found strangled with a stocking in her Manhattan apartment in 1971. Hover, a comedy writer and former Hollywood nightclub owner's daughter who had a degree in biology and was seeking a job as a researcher, was living in Manhattan when she vanished in 1977. Her remains were found the next year in the woods on a suburban estate. Both women were 23.
Alcala had been eyed in Hover's death for decades and in Crilley's killing for at least several years. Detectives talked to him as far back as 1977, according to a document prosecutors filed Thursday; details on the conversations weren't released.
New York Police Department detectives investigating Crilley's killing went to California in 2003 with a warrant to interview Alcala and get a dental impression from him.
A forensic dentist later found that a bite mark on Crilley's body was consistent with Alcala's impression, a law enforcement official has said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
A detective went to talk to Alcala again in 2005. On learning that the investigator was from New York, Alcala asked, "What took you so long?" according to the prosecutors' filing.
The Manhattan DA's cold-case unit also conducted new interviews with more than 100 witnesses.
Alcala has been behind bars since his 1979 arrest in one of the California killings. Before that arrest, he also served a prison sentence on convictions of furnishing marijuana to a minor and kidnapping and trying to kill an 8-year-old girl.
After his 2010 conviction, California authorities released more than 100 photos, found in his storage locker, of young women and girls. They said they were exploring whether Alcala could be tied to cases in New York and other states.
The public defender's office in Marin County, Calif., which represented Alcala in his extradition fight, contacted New York's Legal Aid Society on his behalf, the society said. He is being represented by Legal Aid veterans Thomas Klein and Beth Unger.
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