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The Twisted Life That Led Bonin to Death Row

Crime: Neighbors recall signs of trouble and experts look for roots of serial killer's murderous ways.

February 18, 1996|DEXTER FILKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In court, the crucial test for Bonin was whether he was insane--whether he knew that what he was doing was wrong. Bonin, for instance, did several things that suggested he understood the gravity of his crimes: He scattered and concealed his victims' bodies, and washed out his blood-soaked van. "There was no question of his sanity," Norris said.

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Bonin's many attorneys through the years offer claims of his humanity--his great love for his mother, his generosity to fellow inmates, his paintings and short stories.

They do not speak of remorse. Except for a few isolated references in his psychological records, Bonin has evidently never expressed any shame for what he did, nor has he sought forgiveness.

Lavada Gifford of Long Beach traded letters with Bonin for many months. Bonin confessed to murdering her son, 14-year-old Sean King, although he was never convicted of that crime.

Not once, Gifford said, did Bonin mention the murder. She broke off the correspondence in the late 1980s.

"It was all about him and his favorite TV shows," she said. "He never acknowledged that he did anything wrong."

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Bonin has been awaiting death for 14 years. As with all death row inmates, his life is governed by routine: From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., he is free to leave his cell and go into Yard 4 to exercise and chat with other inmates. Yard 4 is reserved for the lowest on death row's pecking order: serial killers and child molesters. They are housed together to protect them from the others.

For years, Bonin has played bridge with three fellow serial killers, Randy Kraft, Doug Clark and Lawrence Bittaker. Together, the bridge group has been convicted of killing 49 people.

Just this month, Lavada Gifford decided to give Bonin one more chance and wrote him a final letter. If there is anything you want to say to me, the letter said, say it now. "I was always hoping he would say he is sorry," she said.

So far, no reply.

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