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Trial starting for couple accused of torturing, killing woman

The Associated Press
Tuesday January 22, 2002

OAKLAND — A Sacramento couple accused of torturing, sexually assaulting and strangling a Pleasanton student in a minivan is scheduled to go on trial starting Tuesday. 

James Daveggio, 41, and girlfriend Michelle Michaud, 43, could face the death penalty if convicted of snatching and killing community college student Vanessa Lei Samson, 22, in December 1997. 

The two allegedly raped and killed Samson inside a minivan converted into what authorities have described as a mobile torture chamber, complete with hooks and ropes. They allegedly kidnapped Samson on her way to her clerical job at an insurance office less than a mile from her house. 

They are charged with repeatedly raping Samson with two curling irons while forcing her to wear a gag to muffle her screams, police said. She then allegedly was strangled with a nylon rope and dumped face-down on a snow-covered embankment in Alpine County. She was fully clothed, and her backpack and wallet were found beside her. 

Prosecutors have said the couple “formed a predatory team to sexually assault young, vulnerable women for their own depraved sexual gratification.” 

An Alameda County jury is set to hear opening statements Tuesday. Testimony is expected later in the trial from a former Reno community college student who was kidnapped, raped and sodomized in 1997 prior to Samson’s death. 

Michaud pleaded guilty in that case and is serving a 15-year prison sentence. Daveggio received a 25-year sentence in that case. 

According to prosecutors, Daveggio and Michaud were obsessed with modeling their crimes after Gerald and Charlene Gallego, the 1970s couple who made headlines with their so-called “sex-slave murders.” 

No one under 18 will be allowed in the courtroom during the trial because the judge is concerned about the potentially disturbing nature of the expected testimony. 

Daveggio’s daughter, then 16, told a grand jury her father had asked her to come along on what he called “hunting.” 

“He told me I would never know if I’d like killing someone unless I had tried,” according to grand jury testimony.