SAN QUENTIN — William G. Bonin, the notorious "Freeway Killer" who seared his way into the nation's consciousness with a string of sadistic murders 16 years ago, was executed at San Quentin Prison early today, becoming the first person in California to die by lethal injection.
Bonin, a former Downey truck driver who confessed to raping, torturing and killing 21 boys and young men, was put to death in the prison's converted gas chamber. Bonin was declared dead at 12:13 a.m.
At 10:47 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a desperate, last-minute appeal by Bonin's attorneys to spare his life. Earlier Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, then a larger panel from the same court, refused to block the execution.
Outside the prison gates, hundreds of death penalty opponents and supporters engaged in raucous, often angry demonstrations, becoming increasingly confrontational as the night wore on.
Bonin, 49, was the third prisoner in California to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
One of the most prolific killers in U.S. history, Bonin spent Thursday peacefully, prison officials said, reading his mail and chatting with relatives, friends and attorneys.
Moved at 6 p.m. to a special "death watch" cell beside the execution chamber, Bonin ate a final meal of coffee ice cream and pepperoni and sausage pizza, and watched the television game show "Jeopardy."
Bonin appeared resigned and met with a Catholic chaplain. "He's communicating well and seems relaxed," said San Quentin spokeswoman Joy Macfarlane.
Earlier, he also found time to speak to a San Francisco radio station. In an interview with KQED-FM, Bonin said he had "made peace with it" and has even managed to joke with the prison warden about his impending death.
But the mass murderer had chilling words for the family members of his victims, some of whom planned to attend his execution in an effort to find a measure of peace themselves.
"They feel that my death will bring closure," Bonin said. "But that's not the case. They're going to find out."
As the light faded, relatives of several of Bonin's victims arrived at the prison to witness the execution. Some had to elbow their way in through a crowd of photographers.
Authorities tightened security at the prison and throughout the area. Prisoners were locked in their cells, their recreation times canceled. Freeway offramps into San Quentin were closed. Roads into San Quentin Village, a bay-side hamlet beside the prison, were blocked.
Sheriff's deputies and correctional officers swarmed in and around prison grounds, apparently to ward off any trouble from death penalty opponents and supporters who held raucous demonstrations just outside. The crowd swelled, with people streaming into the area as midnight approached.
"I wish I could be in there watching," said Erwin Baumgartner, a glazier and adamant supporter of capital punishment. "I think the man should die. . . . I don't think it's cruel and I don't think it's unusual. It happens all over the world."
Michael Levine, a San Francisco middle school teacher, was videotaping the demonstrations to show to his class, which he said included several children of San Quentin inmates and the son of the prison chaplain.
Levine said he understood the views of death penalty advocates, especially after talking to relatives of several victims. "But morally, I don't think the state should model killing," he said.
Many in the crowd--which included actor Mike Farrell--were death penalty opponents. Some carried candles. Others chanted, strummed guitars and sang. Shouting matches broke out, as demonstrators hurled insults back and forth.
Berkeley resident Eve Sweetser said the tone was much angrier than the previous demonstrations she attended before other executions.
Earlier, several of Bonin's victims and relatives of several others gathered near the prison for an unusual news conference in the hours before his scheduled death.
"I just can't wait to see [Bonin] take his last breath," said Sandra Miller, the mother of Russell Duane Rugh, 15, of Garden Grove, who was last seen near his home waiting for a bus to work at a fast-food restaurant. His body was found March 22, 1980, beside Ortega Highway, alongside the body of 14-year-old Glen Barker of Huntington Beach, another of Bonin's victims.
Miller said she regrets Bonin's death was to be relatively painless. As she spoke, Miller hugged David McVicker, a Santa Ana disc jockey whom Bonin raped at gunpoint in 1975. McVicker was 14.
"I think they ought to give him over to the [victims'] parents and David," Miller said. "We'd fix him."
The execution prompted small protests in Southern California on Thursday night.