Bonner attorney to give hospital a report to speed evaluation

PORT ANGELES — A defense expert will establish a “good faith” insanity defense for alleged murderer Benjamin George Bonner to compel an evaluation by Western State Hospital, a Clallam County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

Bonner, 19, of Bainbridge Island, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the beating death of Cynthia Little at her Sunland home last May.

Bonner’s case has been stuck in a holding pattern since he entered the plea in January.

Officials at Western State Hospital, the state psychiatric center in Lakewood, have refused to conduct an evaluation on Bonner to determine if he was insane at the time of the alleged murder in the absence of a report from a defense expert endorsing an insanity defense, prosecutors said.

Bonner’s attorney, John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender, said the state statute requiring a pre-evaluation report is “nonsensical” and does not define “evaluation and report by an expert or professional person.”

As a remedy, Hayden suggested that a defense expert prepare a brief summary for Western State to allow his client’s case to proceed.

“It will not be the full, real deal by any stretch because that process is going to take a long time,” Hayden told Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer.

“But in order to satisfy the folks at Western, I guess we would have a good faith basis to ask them to make an evaluation of this sort.”

Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin noted that the court already had ordered an insanity evaluation for Bonner.

“If we’re arguing that Western State is not complying with a court order, then there needs to be some type of contempt [order] against Western State,” Devlin said.

Devlin expressed frustration with continual delays in the Bonner case. Bonner has had six court hearings rescheduled since his Jan. 19 arraignment.

His trial is scheduled for Aug. 20.

Despite ambiguity in the statute, Devlin said the law requires the defense to submit a report prior to an insanity evaluation.

“I think what I take issue with is since January, Mr. Hayden has been saying: ‘It’s going to be months, it’s going to be months before we have this evaluation,’ ” Devlin told Rohrer.

“We’ve been here doing the same thing since January. Is the evaluation done? If it is, let’s just stop this crazy process and get it taken care of like it’s been done in every other insanity case in this court.”

To avoid further delays, Rohrer ordered that Hayden produce a “good faith” argument for an insanity evaluation.

“I think that puts us in a better position to get Western State to proceed,” Rohrer said.

“And if it’s not adequate, then they can tell us what it is that they need that they don’t currently have.”

Bonner is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree animal cruelty for crimes he allegedly committed on or about May 4, 2017.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office alleged in court papers that Bonner bludgeoned Little to death with a fireplace poker as Little repeatedly told him, “I love you.”

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

She was 71.

Bonner also used the fireplace poker to kill Little’s pet dog before driving Little’s car to his residence on Bainbridge Island, the Sheriff’s Office alleged.

Bonner’s court hearing Thursday was also a hearing for Shay Clinton Darrow, a 29-year-old Port Angeles man who allegedly shot and killed his father in January 2017.

“There’s really no connection between these cases except the same issue is before the court,” Rohrer told the defendants.

“So it’s more or less for expediency.”

Bonner’s case is one step ahead of Darrow’s case because Darrow has not yet entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, his attorney said.

“The bottom line is this: We are proceeding to defend these two cases,” Hayden said.

Bonner and Darrow sat side by side at the defendant’s table wearing shackles and standard jail uniforms during the 40-minute hearing.

Bonner was previously found to be competent to stand trail after undergoing competency restoration at Western State Hospital.

An October report from Western State concluded that a medicated Bonner had the ability to understand the charges against him and to assist in his own defense.

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

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

Bonner and Darrow have a joint review hearing scheduled for April 19.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.

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