The Bainbridge High School student whom authorities say confessed to killing a 71-year-old Sequim woman Thursday will plead not guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree animal cruelty and first-degree robbery, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Benjamin G. Bonner, who turned 18 on April 4, “absolutely” will enter non-guilty pleas at his May 19 arraignment, John Hayden of the Clallam Public Defenders Office said after the charges were filed Tuesday, May 9, in Clallam County Superior Court.
Bail has been set at $1.5 million.
A probable-cause statement filed May 5 in Clallam County Superior Court described the woman, 71-year-old Cynthia Little of Sequim, as a grandmother figure to Bonner.
Little’s body was discovered in her bedroom in the 100 block of Hurricane Ridge Drive in the Sunland residential development at about noon May 4 by Bonner’s parents, according to the report written by Sheriff’s Detective Brian Knutson.
Bonner confessed to striking Little 15 times with a fireplace poker in her living room while she said “‘I love you,’ over and over,” according to the arrest report.
Little “tried to attack him by grabbing at him; which he demonstrated as a hugging motion,” according to the statement.
Bonner said nothing of the sort in the Superior Court hearing Friday.
“I would never want to kill my aunt,” Bonner told Judge Christopher Melly.
Bonner also was arrested for investigation of animal cruelty for allegedly killing Little’s dog and for theft for allegedly stealing Little’s car.
Bonner’s parents drove to Sunland on Thursday thinking their son and the vehicle were still at Little’s and found their SUV in the driveway but Little’s car gone.
Upon entering Little’s unlocked house midday Thursday, they discovered Little’s body lying on the bedroom floor with a wound on the back of her head, her deceased dog lying next to her and and a fireplace poker next to her, according to the report.
Clallam County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched at 12:39 p.m. to Little’s home in the 100 block of Hurricane Ridge Drive.
According to the press release, deputies quickly determined Little had died as a result of homicidal violence.
Deputies sought assistance from area law enforcement agencies in locating the stolen vehicle and it was soon found at a residence on Bainbridge Island by police officers, the press release stated.
Bonner was arrested without incident by Bainbridge Island police, who were waiting for him at about 6 p.m. Thursday outside his parents’ Northeast Sunny Circle home on Bainbridge Island after they saw Little’s car parked at the residence, Police Chief Matthew Hamner said.
Melly on Friday, May 5, set the bail based on “the brutal nature” of the crime and the threat to community safety posed by Bonner’s potential release.
He also placed a 72-hour Clallam County jail hold on Bonner, ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation to determine whether he was dangerous to himself and others, and set the May 9 hearing for the formal filing of charges.
Bonner, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and believed to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, recently had received pain medication and had his anti-psychotic medication adjusted around April 30.
Since the adjustment, he had been hearing voices, suffering hallucinations and said his best friend was an android, according to the report.
Harold Bonner and Ursula Rosin had adopted Benjamin when he was 1 year old from Russia.
On May 2, he threatened Ursula with a pencil while telling her she was not his mother, according to the arrest report.
Shortly after the incident, she discovered him physically abusing a cat, police said.
He was subsequently taken to a facility for a psychological assessment and released the morning of May 3.
He took his parents’ SUV at about 4 p.m. May 3, according to court documents.
Little called them 3½ hours later to say Benjamin had driven into her driveway, then driven off, and that she was going to look for him.
She called them back at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to say that “she had Benjamin at her house and was going to have him stay the night,” according to the arrest report.
‘Passion for children’
Since 2009, Little, who lived alone, had been a member of the county Court Appointed Special Advocates program for foster care children who have been abused and neglected, county CASA program coordinator Valerie Brooks said.
“She just loved everybody equally and she had such a passion for children,” Brooks said. “She has many children, but none of her own.”
On the evening of May 4, neighbors of Little shared their recollections of her.
“She was a lovely woman,” Roland Miller said.
Little lived two blocks away from Miller’s residence in Sunland.
“We spoke if we met on the street.”
Little had run a block party for neighborhood residents for the past couple of years, Miller said.
Brothers Corey and Trevor Reeves said they moved into the house next to Little in January.
They both said they saw her on May 3 but their family didn’t hear anything that night or the next morning that seemed suspicious.
The brothers said they found her to be very nice and she brought them muffins on the day they moved in.
Their mother, Tara Johnson, said Little worked at Sunland’s pool and she was determined to get Johnson’s autistic daughter to say “hello” to her every time they saw one another.
John Lavatai said he took care of Little’s yard for more than 10 years.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lavatai said. “She wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
Brooks, the CASA coordinator, said a service will be scheduled.
Brooks said Little has family members in Jefferson County, Colo., and New Jersey.
Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sequim Gazette reporter Matthew Nash contributed to this report. Reach him at email@example.com.