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School District Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit With Family Of Slain Girl

SACRAMENTO (AP) - The Grant Joint Union High School District will pay $1 million to the family of slain student Michelle Montoya to settle the family's wrongful death suit against the district.

Alex Dale Thomas, a substitute janitor, is accused of raping and killing Montoya, 18, on May 16, 1997, in the Rio Linda High School wood shop. The slaying sparked new California laws regarding the hiring of felons at schools.

"This is a day of closure, not a day of celebration," said Jordan Metz, a lawyer representing Montoya's mother, Pam Schleeter. The suit was settled on Monday, the day it was scheduled to go to trial in Sacramento County Superior Court.

The district had assumed liability in the case.

"We didn't want to spend additional financial resources litigating a matter about which there was no question of fact," said Jacques Sterling Whitfield, the district's general counsel.

Thomas, 37, faces the death penalty. The trial was moved to Sonoma County earlier this year, but has yet to begin.

When hired by the school district, the janitor had served nearly 12 years in prison for a 1982 robbery conviction and a 1986 manslaughter and robbery conviction. Parents and other critics of the district said school officials failed to adequately investigate Thomas' past before he was hired.

The crime prompted new state laws that require completed background checks prior to hiring school employees.

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