LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Its been nearly two decades since the Sepich family buried their daughter Katie who was murdered in 2003. If you drive by the local cemetery in Carlsbad there is a good chance you’ll find Dave Sepich there. “Every six weeks to every two months I’ll stop by, check on things and you know say hello,” Dave Sepich said. “When I am here it’s emotional. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Katie Sepich, was only 22-years-old when she was brutally raped and strangled to death. The co-ed’s body dumped in the old landfill of Las Cruces, not too far from New Mexico State University.
Katie and her mom. Jayann were like best friends. “I remember, not too long after she died, someone said, grieve not for what you have lost, be grateful instead for what’s left behind,” Jayann Sepich said.
The Sepich family is grateful for the time they had with their little fire-ball. That’s what called Katie. A fire-ball that was determined to change the world. “She’s kind of like Katie in a lot of ways if she decides she’s going to do something you better get out of the way,” Dave said, as he describes his wife Jayann.
Jayann has told her daughter’s story to lawmakers in more than 20 states. Each time, reliving the night her oldest daughter was brutally murdered by a complete stranger in the summer of 2003.
That’s not how Katie’s story ends. Jayann makes sure everyone knows that her daughter was a fighter that night. “Under her fingernails was skin and blood,” Jayann said, “She really put up a fight.”
Now, that fight is Jayann’s. The DNA found beneath Katie’s fingernails pinned her killer years after the horrific crime. However, it could have been months instead of years had his DNA been collected after he was arrested for a felony. Katie’s Law changed that in New Mexico in 2006.
Katie’s family spearheaded the change that’s turned into a cross-country campaign. A visual of Jayann’s fight is on a U.S. map that hangs in her office that is nearly filled with push pins. ‘”If it’s red, we’ve passed the law there. If its yellow or blue I’ve been there to speak,” Jayann said.
Its a fight, that got the attention of Elizabeth Smart’s dad and the father of Adam Walsh. It also got the attention of U.S lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. “I’m proud to say two days after what would have been Katie’s 32nd birthday the Senate passed our bill,” Udall said.
In 2012, the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act was signed into law. It’s not a replica of New Mexico’s Katie’s Law, it doesn’t force states to start taking DNA samples from all arrestees. However, it does give states, who enact similar laws, money for the first year its enacted. Many state lawmakers have concerns that local departments would not have enough money to enforce and run such a law.
The act would grant the state money to pay more employees to process the DNA, money to pay for more equipment and money to expunge all of the DNA when a suspect is found innocent, acquitted or the charges aren’t filed.
So far, 31 states have passed a law that replicates some form of Katie’s Law. Jayann Sepich has lobbied in 23 of those states. Her biggest argument is the cost to enforce the law in each state does not compare to cost of losing a life. “In New Mexico, we’ve had over 1,800 matches to Katie’s Law,” Jayann said. “In California, they’re getting 10 matches a day.”
Jayann truly believes the matches could mean a rapist or murderer will not be able to strike again. “It wouldn’t have saved Katie’s life,” Jayann said. “We would have found her killer three years sooner, but it wouldn’t have saved her life.”
According to Jayann, there are other cases she’s looked into where someone could have been saved. She often tells lawmakers about Brianna Denison, from Nevada. Denison’s killer had a history of felony arrests and committed a rape a year before killing the college student. While they can’t bring Katie back it doesn’t stop the Sepich’s from wondering, what if. “Mainly that we miss her,” Dave said. “That we miss whatever life that she would have had if she had been here.”
The murder of Katie Sepich, changed the families lives forever. Jayann Sepich’s youngest daughter is now pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry with a focus on DNA. Their son keeps Katie’s memory alive on social media by remembering her birthday.
No matter how many years pass, there is no shaking the memory of the night their Katie was taken away too soon. That is why they say they fight for Katie’s Law. “If we had to lose Katie, hopefully, we have saved some other people from doing what I had to do,” said Dave Sepich.
Jayann’s fight is not only in the U.S. She has talked about Katie’s story in Thailand, Brazil and Argentina. For now, there’s no telling when Jayann will write her final chapter on Katie’s Law.
KRQE News 13 also requested an interview with Gabriel Avila, through the New Mexico Department of Corrections but he has not responded.
To learn more about the Sepich family’s fight, go to dnasaves.org.(Video Courtesy: DNA Saves; ‘Coed Nightmares’)