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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Man Given Life Term for Mechanic's Murder

Courts: Daniel Joseph Bonilla must serve a minimum of 55 years for killing Ojai resident Thomas Mahl. He receives another life sentence for kidnapping cabdriver.

July 15, 1999|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 27-year-old Meiners Oaks man was sentenced Wednesday to two life terms in prison for murdering an acquaintance at an Ojai Valley trailer park and then carjacking a taxicab to make his escape.

Daniel Joseph Bonilla will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for fatally shooting 36-year-old Ojai resident Thomas Mahl last year, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon.

"He would be very, very old before he is eligible for parole," Simon told reporters after sentencing. "He will never get out."

Bonilla received 55 years to life from Superior Court Judge Ken Riley for killing Mahl and a consecutive life term for kidnapping the taxi driver during the carjacking. Riley also gave the convicted murderer 18 years for other related crimes.

Several members of Mahl's family were in the Ventura courtroom for the sentencing, including the victim's brother, Barry Mahl, who said he was satisfied with the punishment.

"The guy got what he deserved," said Mahl, 35, who described his brother as a friendly mechanic who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Barry Mahl said the killing left behind an 8-year-old son who is devastated by the loss of his father. The boy is living with Mahl's mother in Ojai, he said.

After deliberating for two days in June, a jury convicted Bonilla of second-degree murder. In all, he was convicted of eight felonies, including kidnapping, carjacking and trying to prevent a witness from testifying.

The shooting occurred Dec. 5 at a trailer park in Casitas Springs. Bonilla fired at Mahl after an argument and then called a taxicab.

Bonilla forced the cab driver to head north on the Ventura Freeway to Santa Barbara. He later released the driver unharmed in Goleta, but took the vehicle.

He was arrested a short time later after crashing the taxi. Authorities recovered from the vehicle a .22-caliber revolver that had been fired three times.

During the trial, Bonilla's attorney contested only the murder charge. Deputy Public Defender Steve Lipson suggested that another shooter killed Mahl.

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