Attorney says Bainbridge man will plead not guilty to causing death of Sequim woman

Cynthia Little

Cynthia Little

PORT ANGELES — The Bainbridge High School student who authorities say confessed to killing a 71-year-old Sequim-area children’s advocate last week will plead not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, first-degree animal cruelty and first-degree robbery, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Benjamin G. Bonner “absolutely” will enter non-guilty pleas at his 9 a.m. May 19 arraignment in connection with the death Thursday of Cynthia Little of Sunland Golf & Country Club, John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender said after the charges were filed Tuesday in Clallam County Superior Court.

The charges, which included vulnerable victim, deliberate cruelty and deadly weapon enhancements, carry maximum life imprisonment penalties for the murder and robbery counts.

Bonner, whose 18th birthday was April 3, continued Tuesday to be held on $1.5 million bond in the high-security area of the Clallam County jail after refusing to follow directives by jail staff and refusing to return to his cell, which has a camera to monitor his behavior, jail Superintendent Ron Sukert said Tuesday.

Bonner is allowed outside of his cell for one hour a day, Sukert said.

A memorial service for Little, a retired teacher and longtime volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 121 E. Maple St., Sequim. A rosary is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

“In today’s world, children need more protection,” Little said in her 2009 CASA volunteer application. “I feel I am qualified to help. I really never had the time to volunteer while I was working.”

Little was a teacher in California, including Los Angeles and Riverside, from 1972-2002, according to her application.

“Now I have the time and would like to contribute to the community,” she said.

Little was a longtime friend of Bonner’s mother, county Juvenile Services Director Pete Peterson said Monday.

She was described as “like a grandmother figure to Benjamin,” according to Sheriff’s Detective Brian Knutson’s probable-cause statement that formed the basis of the charges filed Tuesday.

At Bonner’s first court appearance Friday, when his bail was set at $1.5 million, he seemed bewildered.

“I would never want to kill my aunt,” he told Judge Christopher Melly.

“I love her to death.”

Bonner had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was believed to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia when he received dental care with pain medication and an adjustment to his anti-psychotic medication about April 30, after which he was hearing voices and hallucinating, according to the statement.

Bonner was released from a mental health facility May 3, a day after threatening his mother with a pencil and abusing the family cat, according to the statement.

On Thursday, he took the family SUV without permission and drove to Little’s home, after which she called his parents, took his parents’ car keys and hid them, the statement said.

Bonner said Little “tried to attack him by grabbing at him; which he demonstrated as a hugging motion,” according to the statement.

“Benjamin retrieved a fireplace poker near the fireplace and struck Cynthia in self-defense.

“Cynthia went down, initially, but then got back up saying ‘I love you’ over and over.

“Benjamin struck Cynthia again and she fell back down to the floor.

“Benjamin estimated that he struck Cynthia about 15 times with the fire poker.”

He then attacked and killed her dog, Jack, before taking Little’s car back to Bainbridge Island, according to the statement.

Bonner’s parents, Harold Bonner and Ursula Rosin, who were in court for the hearing Tuesday, reported to Peninsula Communications at 12:39 p.m. Thursday they had found Little’s body after driving to Little’s home to look for their son.

Bainbridge Island police arrested Bonner in the late Thursday afternoon/early evening hours after spotting Little’s car — he could not find the keys to his parents’ vehicle after allegedly killing Little — at Bonner’s house, according to Police Chief Matthew Hamner.

He refused to undergo a mental health assessment with Peninsula Behavioral Health that Melly had ordered Friday, according to a Monday statement from Heidi Romero of PBH that was contained in court records.

Melly ordered the assessment as a condition of Bonner’s release if he was able to make bail, Hayden said after Tuesday’s hearing.

“Quite frankly, it’s pretty irrelevant,” Hayden said of the assessment.

Erin Jennings, Bainbridge Island School District spokeswoman, said Tuesday that some Bainbridge High School students had sought counseling provided by the district following their classmate’s arrest last week.

“Given the circumstances, they are doing as well as one can expect,” Jennings said.

Bainbridge High School Principal Duane Fish said Tuesday that the district is researching how Bonner will be able to continue his high school studies while incarcerated.

“The district is going to have to research what that is like for adults,” Fish said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].