Paroled felon gets death penalty in Riverside officer killing
Riverside jurors recommended the death penalty Tuesday for Earl Elllis Green, the man convicted of shooting Riverside police Officer Ryan Bonaminio at point-blank range as the officer pleaded for his life.
After 3-1/2 hours of deliberations, the panel returned the decision after hearing arguments from prosecutors that the penalty should fit the crime, while a defense lawyer asked the jury to spare Green's life, saying vengeance is not the same as justice.
“We are pleased with this verdict and the hard work done by this jury,” Dist. Atty. Paul Zellerbach said. “This case is a perfect example -– the murder of a peace officer in the line of duty -– why we need the death penalty and why it needs to be carried out.”
Green, who remains in custody with no bail, is scheduled to return to the Hall of Justice in Riverside on June 25 to be sentenced by Judge Jean Pfeifer Leonard.
Green was found guilty last month of first-degree murder with special circumstances that made him eligible for the death penalty.
During the trial, defense attorneys acknowledged Green fired the shots that killed Bonaminio in a church parking lot in November 2010 after Green led the officer on a foot chase through Riverside's Fairmount Park.
The attorneys had sought a conviction on a lesser charge that would not carry the death penalty.
The 46-year-old convicted felon, then on parole, jumped out of a stolen truck that was being pursued by police after it had been involved in a hit-and-run, police officials said. Bonaminio, 27, followed Green into the park.
When the officer slipped in the mud near a stairwell, Green emerged and bludgeoned the officer with a metal pipe, prosecutors told the jury. Green then took the injured officer's .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and chambered a new round, according to the prosecution.
Stephen J. McQueen, a homeless man who volunteered at the church, told the jury he saw the shooting unfold as he smoked a cigarette in the parking lot. Bonaminio, hands up, told the killer, "'Don't do it. Don't do it,''' McQueen testified.
"Then there was three shots. One shot did not seem to affect the officer at all,'' said McQueen, who did not see the suspect well enough to identify Green as the killer. "The next two, there was movement, and then the officer began falling.''
In his opening statement, prosecutor MIchael Hestrin said Green's first two shots missed the officer. Green then walked up to Bonaminio, on his knees at the time, and fired at the back of the officer's head from a foot or so away, Hestrin said.
"His life and blood poured out of him,'' Hestrin told the jury. "He died there, on the cold and dirty asphalt.''
Among the evidence presented at the trial was Bonaminio's gun, which later showed traces of the officer's blood and DNA. It was found in a closet inside the home of Green's girlfriend. Green's DNA was found on a beer can inside the big rig, which had been stolen from a Penske rental lot, and his fingerprints were lifted from electrical tape he apparently used when hot-wiring the rig.
Bonaminio's blood and DNA were found in the same truck, according to Hestrin. After the shooting, Green walked back to the truck and drove off, according to prosecutors, who played a video taken from the officer's patrol car that showed a man fleeing the truck as a voice shouted for him to stop, then getting back in the truck and leaving about two minutes later.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Joseph Bonaminio, father of Riverside police Officer Ryan Bonaminio, looks down during a 2010 news conference as Police Chief Sergio Diaz announces that Earl Ellis Green of Rubidoux, whose image is at left, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the officer. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times