Bonin v. Calderon, s. 92-56299

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Citation59 F.3d 815
Docket NumberNos. 92-56299,93-99000,s. 92-56299
Parties95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 8895 William George BONIN, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Arthur CALDERON, as Warden of San Quentin State Prison; James Rowland, Director of the California Department of Corrections, Respondents-Appellees.
Decision Date28 June 1995

Emry J. Allen and Michael H. Roquemore, Deputy State Public Defenders, San Francisco, CA, for petitioner-appellant.

Esteban Hernandez, Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen., San Diego, CA, for respondents-appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before: WALLACE, Chief Judge, BRUNETTI and KOZINSKI, Circuit Judges.

WALLACE, Chief Judge:

William George Bonin, a California state prisoner awaiting execution at San Quentin State Prison, appeals from the district court's denial of his two petitions for writ of habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1291, 2253. We affirm.


Between 1979 and 1980, Bonin committed a string of shockingly brutal murders in Southern California. As a result of his activities, Bonin became known as the "Freeway Killer." Although the details of each murder vary and need not be repeated here, they shared a number of common features. In general, Bonin would pick up boys between the ages of 12 and 19 years. After engaging in various forms of homosexual activity with the boys, Bonin would murder them. The victims were usually killed by strangulation. The bodies of the victims exhibited signs that they had been beaten around the face and elsewhere, including the genital area. Marks were found on the wrists and ankles of the victims, indicating that they had been tied. Several of the bodies exhibited other more gruesome injuries. When Bonin was through with the boys, he would then dump their nude bodies along Southern California freeways. Bonin was eventually apprehended, and indictments were brought in both Los Angeles and Orange counties.


Bonin was charged in Los Angeles County with 14 counts of murder, as well as various related noncapital crimes, including robbery, sodomy, and mayhem. Multiple-murder special circumstances were alleged with respect to each murder count. In addition, a felony-murder-robbery special circumstance was alleged with respect to all but three of the murder counts, and a felony-murder-sodomy special circumstance was alleged with respect to one murder count. Two of the murder counts were dismissed before trial.

The evidence of guilt presented at trial was overwhelming. The prosecution demonstrated the remarkably similar features of the murders and their temporal proximity, which indicated that they had all been committed by a single perpetrator. In order to prove that Bonin was the individual that committed the crimes, the prosecution presented testimonial, physical, and scientific evidence. Experts testified that the bodies of three of the victims bore triskelion-shaped fibers that matched the carpeting in Bonin's van. They also testified that the bodies of three other victims revealed the presence of hair that matched Bonin's. One victim's body also bore a seminal fluid stain that could have been made by Bonin. Moreover, Bonin's van was severely stained with human blood.

In addition to this physical and scientific evidence, the prosecution presented the testimony of two eyewitnesses plus others to whom Bonin had made certain confessions. Gregory Miley, one of Bonin's homosexual partners, testified that he had participated with Bonin in two of the murders. James Munro, another of Bonin's homosexual partners, testified that he had participated with Bonin in one of the murders, after which Bonin told him that he was the "Freeway Killer" and that he had committed about 14 similar murders. The prosecution also called David Lopez, a television reporter, who testified that Bonin confessed in an interview to killing ten of the twelve boys as well as several others. Two other acquaintances of Bonin, Scott Fraser and Ray Pendleton, testified that Bonin had admitted that he had picked up one of the victims and had killed him in the course of a homosexual encounter. Jailhouse informers testified regarding various confessions made by Bonin while he was incarcerated. Finally, other witnesses testified that after he had been arrested in 1975 for a homosexual attack, Bonin said he would never again leave witnesses to his crimes alive.

The defense attempted to persuade the jury that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof, principally by impeaching the credibility of the various witnesses.

The jury acquitted Bonin of two of the murder charges, and one sodomy and one mayhem charge, but found him guilty of each of the remaining counts. The jury also found to be true all of the special-circumstance allegations except for the felony-murder-sodomy special circumstance.

The penalty phase of the trial was then conducted. After less than one day of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of death for each of the 10 murder convictions.


After the Los Angeles trial was completed, Bonin was tried in Orange County, California for four murders and related noncapital crimes committed there. The prosecution's case was similar to that presented in the Los Angeles trial, and, as it did in the Los Angeles trial, the defense attacked the credibility of the various witnesses. It also attempted to undermine the credibility of the prosecution's scientific evidence by presenting the testimony of a carpet fiber expert who opined that the fiber samples were too small for accurate comparison to the carpet of the van.

Bonin was convicted of all four murder counts and of robbing each of the victims. The jury found a multiple-murder special circumstance and felony-murder-robbery special circumstance for each of the murders.

At the penalty phase of the trial, the evidence presented in aggravation and in mitigation was quite similar to that presented in the Los Angeles trial. After two days of deliberation, Bonin was sentenced to death for each of the four murders.


On automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court, the Los Angeles and Orange County convictions and death sentences were affirmed. People v. Bonin, 47 Cal.3d 808, 254 Cal.Rptr. 298, 765 P.2d 460 (1989) (Los Angeles); People v. Bonin, 46 Cal.3d 659, 250 Cal.Rptr. 687, 758 P.2d 1217 (1988) (Orange County). The United States Supreme Court denied Bonin's petitions for writ of certiorari with respect to each case, Bonin v. California, 494 U.S. 1039, 110 S.Ct. 1506, 108 L.Ed.2d 641 (1990) (Los Angeles case); Bonin v. California, 489 U.S. 1091, 109 S.Ct. 1561, 103 L.Ed.2d 864 (1989) (Orange County case), as well as a petition for rehearing in the Orange County case. Bonin v. California, 493 U.S. 914, 110 S.Ct. 272, 107 L.Ed.2d 222 (1989).

Bonin filed a state habeas corpus petition challenging his Los Angeles convictions and death sentences, as well as three separate state habeas corpus petitions challenging the Orange County convictions and death sentences. All of Bonin's state habeas corpus petitions were denied by the California Supreme Court.

Bonin filed two habeas corpus petitions under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254, one challenging his Los Angeles convictions and death sentences, and another challenging his Orange County convictions and death sentences. The petitions were assigned to the same district judge. The district court conducted three days of evidentiary hearings concerning issues raised by the petitions, and read the entire record of each case, including over 15,000 pages of trial transcripts. In separate published opinions, the district court denied both of Bonin's petitions. Bonin v. Vasquez, 807 F.Supp. 589 (C.D.Cal.1992) (Los Angeles); Bonin v. Vasquez, 794 F.Supp. 957 (C.D.Cal.1992) (Orange County).

In a published order, Bonin v. Vasquez, 999 F.2d 425 (9th Cir.1993), we denied the motion of Bonin's appointed counsel, the California State Public Defender, to withdraw as attorney of record. We rejected the contention that the defender's own ineffectiveness in its previous handling of the petitions constitute grounds for relief and therefore create a conflict of interest mandating the appointment of new counsel. See id.


In this consolidated appeal, we review the district court's denial of both of Bonin's habeas corpus petitions. Bonin has raised a battery of issues, some alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights at the trials themselves and others alleging errors by the district court in denying the petitions. Bonin makes the following primary arguments:

1. He was denied effective assistance of counsel at both trials because his trial attorney suffered from a conflict of interest;

2. He was denied effective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney failed to investigate adequately and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phases of both trials;

3. He was denied his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when the prosecution introduced evidence of the Orange County murders at the penalty phase of the Los Angeles trial;

4. He was denied a fair trial because of the Orange County trial court's denial of his motion for change of venue;

5. He was deprived of due process and effective assistance of counsel as a result of the trial court's refusal to allow his second attorney to argue at the penalty phase of the Orange County trial;

6. He was deprived of due process because the Los Angeles trial court refused to suppress the testimony of Munro and Miley;

7. He was deprived of due process in both trials as a result of prosecutorial misconduct;

8. The district court erred by dismissing Bonin's proposed amendments to his habeas corpus petitions; and

9. The penalty juries in both trials were biased in favor of the death penalty due to instructional errors.

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