Benjamin Bonner looks at defense attorney Harry Gasnick during an appearance in Clallam County Superior Court in 2017. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Benjamin Bonner looks at defense attorney Harry Gasnick during an appearance in Clallam County Superior Court in 2017. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Trial set for Bainbridge Island man accused in killing of Sequim woman

Jury to decide if Bonner was insane at time of deadly beating

PORT ANGELES — A February trial has been set in Benjamin G. Bonner’s murder case after a state psychiatrist determined that evidence of his legal sanity at the time of Cynthia Little’s death is mixed and should be left to a jury.

Bonner, 19, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree animal cruelty and first-degree robbery for allegedly beating Little to death with a fireplace poker, killing her pet dog and driving her vehicle from Sunland to his home on Bainbridge Island on May 4, 2017.

Little was 71.

Bonner is being held in the Clallam County jail on $1.5 million bail.

Bonner’s trial and pretrial hearings have been reset numerous times in the past 19 months for mental health evaluations and competency restoration.

After an insanity evaluation was filed last month, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer on Friday scheduled a two- to three-week trial for Bonner beginning Feb. 25. A status hearing was set for Jan. 18.

Bonner was found not competent to stand trial in August 2017.

After undergoing competency restoration at Western State Hospital, it was determined in November 2017 that a medicated Bonner had the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and to assist in his own defense.

Bonner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Jan. 19. Defense psychologist Dr. Robert Stanuli opined that Bonner was insane at the time of Little’s murder.

At the January arraignment, Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour ordered Bonner to be evaluated for insanity by a state Department of Social and Health Services expert.

Barry Ward of DSHS’s Office of Forensic Mental Health Services concluded in a Nov. 14 report that Bonner had paranoid schizophrenia, marijuana use disorder and was “acutely psychotic” at the time of the alleged crimes.

“Evidence of legal insanity is mixed, and is appropriately left to the finder of fact [at trial],” Ward wrote.

Bonner told investigators that he had stopped taking anti-psychotic medication in the months prior to his arrest because of the side effects.

The murder occurred one day after Bonner was released from a mental health treatment facility for threatening his mother and harming a cat, investigators said.

Little was found bludgeoned to death inside her home near Sequim. The body of Little’s pet dog was found near her body and the fireplace poker.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said Bonner beat Little to death with the metal instrument as Little repeatedly told him, “I love you.”

Little was described in the arrest narrative as a family friend and grandmother figure to Bonner.

Bonner told deputies he had struck Little in self defense. He estimated that he hit Little 15 times, investigators said.

Bonner allegedly apologized for Little’s murder in a November 2017 letter to the court.

The charges against Bonner carry vulnerable victim, deliberate cruelty and deadly weapon enhancements that could extend the length of his sentence were he to be convicted.

Ward’s forensic mental health report was ordered to determine whether Bonner had symptoms of a mental disease or defect at the time of the alleged crimes and whether those symptoms impaired his capacity to perceive the nature and quality of his actions or capacity to tell right from wrong.

Ward found that Bonner did have a mental disease or defect, specifically schizophrenia, on May 4, 2017.

He said there was “ample evidence” of acute psychosis on the day before the murder and that Bonner remained psychotic until he was medicated months later.

“The clinical evidence does in fact strongly suggest a direct causal link between Mr. Bonner’s psychosis and the killing,” Ward said.

“However, there is little evidence about how this link is mediated. As such, no opinion is offered as to Mr. Bonner’s actual sanity at the time of the offense, as this is a question to be determined by the trier of fact.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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