RE: Kennith Bianchi & Angelo Buono
The People v. Buono
Investigators in Los Angeles had developed the corroborating evidence they felt they needed to complement Ken Bianchi's implication of Angelo as an accomplice. The fibers found on Judy Miller's eyelid and Lauren Wagner's hands came from Angelo's house and upholstery shop. Animal hairs stuck to Lauren's hands were from the rabbits that Angelo raised. The imprint of a police badge was on his wallet, along with appropriate puncture marks from where the badge had been pinned. Beulah Stofer and Markust Camden positively identified Angelo from a photo lineup.
But none of this was important to the prosecutor, Roger Kelly. Kelly had a reputation for not pushing cases where there was any significant chance he would lose. The deterioration in Ken Bianchi's credibility was a key issue in Kelly's reluctance.
The case against Angelo was assigned to Superior Court Judge Ronald M. George. Katherine Mader and Gerald Chaleff were appointed by the court to defend Angelo. The first key decision was whether or not to sever the nonmurder counts (sodomy, pimping, rape, etc) from the murder counts. If the counts were separated, the jury would not necessarily hear about the unspeakably brutal character Angelo was and his treatment of women.
Judge George decided to sever the murder counts from the nonmurder counts to avoid a reversal on appeal, fully expecting that the prosecution would find some way to introduce some of the most damaging character testimony about Angelo into the trial in some other way.
On July 6, 1981, Ken Bianchi gave an unbelievable performance. To convince the court that they could not use his testimony against Angelo, Kenny said that he may have faked the multiple personality disorder, but he didn't know whether he was telling the truth or not when he said that Angelo was involved in the murders. In fact, he didn't think he himself was involved in any of the killings either.
After Kenny's performance in court, Prosecutor Roger Kelly moved to dismiss all of the ten counts of murder against Angelo and to drop any prosecution of him as the Hillside Strangler! From Kelly's viewpoint, the case was unwinnable. Normally, the judge will go along with the prosecutor's wishes, but Judge George wanted some time to think it over.
On July 21, Judge George gave his ruling on the motion to dismiss the charges against Angelo: "We believe there is more than sufficient evidence to show presumption of guilt by Mr. Buono...and I think the evidence the People put on at the preliminary is sufficient to withstand any conviction, the jury believing Mr. Bianchi, and could convict Mr. Buono." The judge then listed the various elements of the evidence that Kelly had failed to note when he tried to have the case dismissed -- which the judge felt was more than enough to meet the requirement for corroborating evidence of an accomplice. Particularly critical were the Lauren Wagner fibers, which came from the very chair in Angelo's house where Bianchi had said that she had been assaulted.
The judge then concluded: "...dismissal would not be 'in the furtherance of justice'...nor is it the function of the court automatically to 'rubber-stamp the prosecutor's decision to abandon the People's case...Applicable standards indicate that a prosecutor must under ordinary circumstances pursue the prosecution of serious charges where there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict, without concern for the consequences to his reputation should he be unsuccessful in obtaining a conviction.
Kelly's motion to dismiss the charges as denied. Not only that, but the judge expected that if the District Attorney's Office could not get its act together to effectively prosecute Angelo Buono, a special prosecutor would be appointed.
After a huge public airing of the controversial decision by Judge George, the DA's Office withdrew from the case. Attorney General George Deukmejian brought in two prosecutors, Michael Nash and Roger Boren to evaluate the evidence. A special investigator, Paul Tulleners, was to assist in this activity. The new team quickly decided that the evidence was strong enough to prosecute. They presented their findings to a panel of four well-respected prosecutors that the attorney general had asked to advise him on this matter. All four of the prosecutors agreed that Deukmejian should prosecute Angelo Buono.
In November, the case went to trial, but was immediately disrupted by continuances, motions by the defense that were appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court. Then there was the matter of jury selection which took three and a half months. The trial began for real in the spring of 1982.
A steady parade of witnesses, including the girls he had brutalized, Becky Spears, Sabra Hannan and others, attested to Angelo's sadism. When it came time for Kenny to testify, he was in no mood to cooperate. That is, until Judge George indicated that he was violating his plea-bargain agreement, which meant that he would be sent back to serve his time in the strict and uncompromising environment of Walla Walla prison in Washington. Kenny changed his tune. While Prosecutor Michael Nash was able to get Kenny to cooperate, defense attorney Chaleff, upon cross-examination, elicited entirely contradictory statements from Bianchi.
Judge George and the jury were transported to the hillsides on which the victims were found. These elaborately planned "jury-views" included a presentation by the key detective at each victim site. It was particularly dramatic in the darkness overlooking the hillsides of the Elysian Valley, where helicopters illuminated where the youngsters Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson were found. It was pointed out to the jurors that Angelo's mother's house and the house where he lived with his former wife were close by these remote spots.
After more than a thousand exhibits and 250 witnesses, the prosecutors got an excellent break. The woman who Angelo terrorized in the Hollywood library while he was waiting for Kenny to make his calls to the Climax modeling agency the night they killed Kimberly Martin, came forward to testify that Angelo was the man that had menaced her. This testimony tied Angelo to the pay phone, which had been used to summon Kimberly to her death.
Finally, the prosecution was finished and the defense began their efforts. Angelo was not cooperating with his attorneys. Their presentation was considerably shorter. They tried to impugn the testimony of Markust Camden on the basis of mental instability, but were not very successful. Then the defense put on a ridiculous attempt to show that a sticky substance that had been found on Lauren Wagner's breast was left by someone other than Buono or Bianchi. Unfortunately for the defense, their arguments were demolished when it was proven that the substance was secretions from the mouths of the ants that were feasting on Lauren's flesh.
Then, inexplicably, defense attorney Katherine Mader decided to put Kenny's friend Veronica Compton on the stand. She unfolded a vague and unlikely story about a conspiracy between Kenny and herself to frame Angelo. Darcy O'Brien, who experienced this testimony first hand said, "The logic and sequence of this conspiracy were impossible to follow, and her manner, that of a starlet courting recognition on a television talk show -- coquettish, then dramatic, tearful, giggly, self-caressing -- was far more arresting than her conspiracy story..."
Prosecutor Michael Nash cross-examined Veronica and, in so doing, inquired about her plans to open a mortuary with serial killer Douglas Clark so that they could both enjoy sex with the dead. He expected her to deny it, but she didn't. In fact, she said that she was seriously considering it. Not only did Nash succeed in getting Veronica to talk about all the kinky things that she and Clark were planning to do together, he got her to admit that she was angry at Bianchi for talking her into the attempted strangling in Bellingham. So much for the credibility of that defense witness.
Roger Boren gave the closing arguments, which took him eleven full days. He addressed every issue in what had become the longest criminal trial in U.S. history at that time. He concluded with "The defense at the end of their argument said to you that you could be fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. I will say to you that in the face of all this evidence...both in corroboration of Kenneth Bianchi and independent of Kenneth Bianchi, -- if in the face of reason Angelo Buono is not convicted of murder of these ten women, then you will have been fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. You will have been fooled by him and you will also have been fooled by Angelo Buono over there and by his two attorneys. The evidence supports his guilt and a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
The jury was sequestered and even though the jurors had been a harmonious group for the daunting two years of the trial, it was not at all clear that they would come to an agreement about Angelo's guilt. They began deliberating on October 21.
Finally, the jury came to agreement on October 31, 1983, at least on the murder of Lauren Wagner. Angelo was found guilty. On November 3, they voted that Angelo was not guilty of the murder of Yolanda Washington. A few days later, he was found guilty of Judy Miller's murder. Under California law at that time, as a "multiple murderer," Angelo faced either the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Then followed guilty verdicts on Dolores Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, Kimberly Martin, Kristina Weckler, Lissa Kastin and Jane King, and finally, Cindy Hudspeth.
Angelo then took the stand briefly to show his contempt for the entire process. "My morals and constitutional rights has been broken."
The jury, which was to decide whether to give him the death penalty or life in prison, deliberated for only an hour before sparing him the death penalty. The judge was not happy: "Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi subjected various of their murder victims to the administration of lethal gas, electrocution, strangulation by rope, and lethal hypodermic injection. Yet the two defendant are destined to spend their lives in prison, housed, fed and clothed at taxpayer expense, better cared for than some of the destitute law-abiding members of our community."
Angelo Buono was sent to Folsom Prison, where he stayed in his cell, fearing injury from other inmates. Kenneth Bianchi was sent to Walla Walla prison in Washington, but was trying to get transferred to a prison outside Washington State.
There are only two major books on the Hillside Stranglers, both of which are very good. Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers by Darcy O'Brien focuses more on the investigation from the standpoint of the Los Angeles law enforcement agencies, particularly detectives, Frank Salerno and Bob Grogan. Also, this book delves deeply into the monstrous mindset of the killers, Angelo Buono and Ken Bianchi. The other book, Hillside Strangler by Ted Schwarz, is much more focused on the personality and mental problems of Kenneth Bianchi.
Two additional books address Ken Bianchi's multiple personality disorder controversy:
J. Reid Meloy, Psychopathic Mind; Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment
Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman, The Serial Killers: A Study in the Psychology of Violence. London: Virgin Publishing, 1997.
The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner were used extensively as sources for this feature story.