Death sentence for couple who tortured Pleasanton woman in minivan

Daily Planet Wire Service and The Associated Press
Thursday September 26, 2002

OAKLAND — A couple accused of abducting, raping and murdering a 22-year-old Pleasanton woman in a minivan rigged for torture was sentenced to death Wednesday. 

James Daveggio, 41, and his then-girlfriend Michelle Michaud, 43, kidnapped Vanessa Lei Samson in December 1997. The Sacramento couple kept Samson inside their minivan, rigged with hooks and ropes, where they repeatedly tortured her with curling irons while driving east toward the Sierra Nevada. 

A motorist found Samson's body two days later, face down in the snow, about 30 feet down a embankment alongside a road in Alpine County. She had been strangled. 

Judge Larry Goodman ordered Wednesday morning that Daveggio be delivered to San Quentin State Prison within 10 days. 

Michaud was sentenced to death Wednesday afternoon. 

Daveggio, a bearded, burly man with numerous tattoos inked on his arms, showed no reaction to the sentence. 

Earlier in the morning, citing "overwhelming and undisputed'' evidence of Daveggio's guilt, Goodman denied an automatic motion to have the death sentence reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

In a monotone voice, Goodman said the court's independent review of the evidence found Samson's murder to be “vile, cruel, senseless, depraved, brutal, evil and vicious.” 

Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers said that never in the history of Alameda County has the criminal justice system seen such a case of “pure evil and utter depravity.” 

“These two defendants are simply the worst of the worst,'' Backers said. She called it “a good day for justice.'' 

Before killing Samson, Daveggio and Michaud raped six young girls and women, Backers said. The two called these attacks “huntings.” 

Prior to sentencing, several members of Samson's family, including her brother and mother, addressed Daveggio in court. 

Vincent Samson, the victim's older brother, placed a framed picture of his sister on the defense table in front of Daveggio before addressing him. 

“What do you say to someone who raped, molested and killed my sister?” Vincent Samson said. “What do you say to a demon that committed vile, inhuman acts on innocent children?” 

He remembered the “kid sister'' he used to pay to wrap his Christmas presents and the caring, giving and responsible young woman who was robbed of her future. 

Vincent Samson also asked Daveggio whether he had in fact killed Vanessa Lei Samson and whether he was sorry for the crimes he had committed. 

Just prior to his sentencing, Daveggio was allowed to respond to Vincent Samson's questions. Daveggio, dressed in bright red jail garb, turned around and looked directly at the Samson family. 

“I, in fact, did not kill Ms. Samson. By law I am as guilty of her death as Michelle is,” Daveggio said. 

“Do I care or feel for Ms. Samson? Yes, watching your family, unfortunately I have never seen love as you all have for her. Yes, I think about it every day.” 

Christina Samson said she is still haunted by the brutal slaying of her daughter. 

“She was in terror. Frightened beyond words,'' Christina Samson said, referring to her daughter's final moments. “She was brutally tortured and she was defenseless and alone.” 

The mother said that she still cries over the loss of her daughter, most often in the early morning hours so that her family members cannot hear her. 

“With the murder of my Vanessa Lei, a part of me died”' she said.