February 10, 2011

Man guilty of murdering Merced couple in love triangle

A 54-year-old man accused of killing two people in a bizarre love triangle probably will spend the rest of his life in prison, after being found guilty Thursday on two counts of murder.

Julio Cesar Guevara Bonilla crossed his hands and stood quietly in court as the verdicts were read in his trial, where he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing William Cisneros, 82, and second-degree murder for killing Clara Cisneros, 43.

The jury of eight women and four men determined Bonilla stabbed the couple inside their 440 Mission Ave. home in 2009.

The case was odd because Clara Cisneros was married to both men. The trio also lived under the same roof for nearly three years, up to the day of the killings.

The murder charges included enhancements for use of a deadly weapon. Jurors also found Bonilla guilty of stealing the couple's car and a gun.

During the trial, prosecutors argued Bonilla killed the couple, loaded up their Jeep with goods and fled. On the flip side, Bonilla's defense claimed an enraged William Cisneros killed Clara Cisneros after an argument about his wife's bigamous relationship -- and Bonilla then killed William Cisneros in self-defense.

But jurors didn't buy the defense's theory, saying they believed Bonilla killed Clara Cisneros and then turned the knife on William Cisneros.

Anita Diaz, William Cisneros' niece, said it was hard for her family to hear the defense accuse her uncle of killing Clara Cisneros. Now that Bonilla has been convicted, however, Diaz said her family can have some closure. "I think it clears up that my uncle is not the one who killed his wife. He was the victim here," Diaz said. "I always knew that, but now, everybody knows that."

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said a primary red flag to dismiss Bonilla's self-defense claim was the position in which the couple's bodies were found. When Merced County sheriff's detectives arrived at the home Sept. 30, 2009, the bodies were found lying next to each other on the floor, flat on their backs, at a nearly perfect perpendicular 90- degree angle.

Goold said it appeared as if the bodies had been purposely placed in that position. A pathologist testified bodies typically wouldn't fall into that position after a violent act.

"We're very happy with the jury's verdict. Obviously they worked very hard. It was a different kind of case, and I am happy with what they came down with," Goold said.

Jurors, some of whom spoke to the Sun-Star after the trial, said they found Bonilla guilty of second- degree murder for killing Clara Cisneros because there wasn't ample evidence of premeditation, necessary for a first-degree conviction, although the killing probably happened in the heat of passion.

After killing Clara Cisneros, however, jurors felt Bonilla made a conscious decision to kill William Cisneros.

"It was a very difficult decision," said juror Barbara Bustos.

"We had to go through a lot to get to our decision, but based on the evidence and what was presented to us, we believed that we did the right thing."

Deputy public defenders Caleb Hegland and Chris Loethen represented Bonilla in the case. "Both myself and Julio are very disappointed, but we appreciate the jury's hard work," Hegland said.

Judge Ronald Hansen is scheduled to sentence Bonilla on March 10.

Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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