By Paul Young
The eight-man, four-woman panel’s recommendation of death versus life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for Earl Ellis Green came after about five hours of deliberation.
The same panel convicted the 46-year-old on May 11 of first-degree murder and found true special circumstance allegations of killing a peace officer and committing a murder to avoid arrest in the Nov. 7, 2010, slaying of Officer Ryan Patrick Bonaminio.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 25. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard could choose not to follow the jury’s recommendation and instead impose a life sentence on Green. But instances of a judge exercising such authority are rare.
Green showed no reaction when the verdict was read. However, as jurors were leaving the courtroom, the defendant, clad in a grayish blue suit and wearing eye glasses, bounced out of his seat to stand with his two attorneys, looking in the direction of the only television camera in the room, traces of a smile on his face.
“Earl Green is among the worst characters I’ve come across,” Deputy District Attorney Mike Hestrin told City News Service.The prosecutor was unable to attend the hearing because of a family emergency, but spoke with CNS afterward.
“This man has no empathy for any other human being on earth,” Hestrin said. “He is a stone-cold killer and will be to the day he dies.”
Hestrin said he was thankful to the jury for making a “just and necessary” decision in recommending capital punishment.
“This was one of the hardest cases for me,” he said. “My dad was a police officer. So this really hit home. My heart goes out to the Bonaminio family. They showed tremendous courage and grace through all of this. They’re a fantastic family.”
Coincidentally, Hestrin noted, Bonaminio was laid to rest two plots away from where the prosecutor’s grandfather, Michael Hestrin Sr., a World War II veteran, is buried at Riverside National Cemetery.
In his penalty phase closing argument, Hestrin told jurors that Green was a ”remorseless killer” who killed Bonaminio ”simply for being a police officer.”
Hestrin pointed to repeated instances of violence perpetrated by Green – including spousal beatings, a near-fatal assault on a fellow inmate and a takeover robbery — that proved the ex-con was a hardened criminal.
“If he gets the chance, Earl Green will hurt someone again,” Hestrin told jurors. `”He will kill again.”
Remembering the 27-year-old Bonaminio as an ”American hero” for his Army service in Iraq and four years as a law enforcement officer, Hestrin said the Riverside native gave his attacker the opportunity to do the right thing in that fateful encounter between them.
“Ryan put up his hands and said those words that will haunt us all: `Don’t do it,”’ Hestrin said. ”Don”t do it’ means `You have the power; you have me; I’m at your mercy.’ Ryan gave Earl Green the choice of his life.
And like he’d always done, Earl Green chose hatred, violence and cruelty. He couldn’t muster even one small gesture of compassion.” Deputy Public Defender O.G. Magno acknowledged that his client’s actions were “inexcusable, unjustifiable and unforgivable,” but pleaded with jurors to take into account the challenges and hardships Green had endured, particularly in his formative years. “Earl Green grew old, but he didn’t grow up,” the attorney said.
“He’s the same person he was when he was a 16-year-old boy.” Magno said Green witnessed his father beat his mother and came of age a public housing project where violence was a way of life, having few role models and no moral guidance. “By the time he’s 16, he is diagnosed with ADHD, he’s delinquent, immature, out of control and trusts no one. Earl is broken,” the attorney said.
He asked jurors to consider recommending life behind bars for his client because “life without the possibility of parole means you’re exercising mercy and recognizing human frailty.” Green killed Bonaminio after the officer attempted to stop him for fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run fender-bender on Market Street. The ex-con was in a stolen semi truck at the time.
Green fled through Fairmount Park, into the parking lot of the nearby Center for Spiritual Living on Ridge Road. As Bonaminio caught up with the defendant, the officer lost his footing in a freshly watered planter and fell in the mud. Green pounced on the lawman, smashing him in the head three times with a steel pipe.
The defendant then grabbed the severely injured officer’s .40- caliber Glock pistol and, as Bonaminio faced him with his hands in front of his face, Green shot him in the head at point-blank range.