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Killer's Accomplice Recants Story

James Munro had claimed William Bonin killed a 13-year-old boy for whose death another man is on trial.

March 30, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

In a conversation recorded less than three months ago, a convicted accomplice to executed serial killer William Bonin said the so-called Freeway Killer once told him that his deadly spree across Southern California began with the strangulation of a Costa Mesa teen in April 1979.

James Munro, convicted of second-degree murder for his role as a Bonin accomplice in a 1980 killing, told an investigator that Bonin had described the killing of 13-year-old James "Jamie" Trotter as "the easiest one he killed," adding that Bonin had a photograph of Trotter.

Munro insisted that the story, which included details about Trotter's clothing and the location of his body, was the truth.

"I'm 100% positive," Munro said in the Jan. 9 recording at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. "I'll remember it the rest of my life."

On Monday, however, after the recording was played in court, Munro said he had fabricated the story.

The recording highlighted the second day of a hearing on a pretrial motion in the murder case of James Lee Crummel, a convicted child molester charged in Riverside County with killing Trotter.

In 1990, Crummel told authorities that he had found bones while hiking in the Cleveland National Forest; those remains were identified as Trotter's in 1996.

Crummel was formally charged with the murder in 1997.

A special circumstance allegation in the case makes him eligible for the death penalty.

Crummel's attorneys are attempting to persuade Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dennis A. McConaghy to allow them to present their theory of Bonin's participation in Trotter's murder when Crummel's trial begins Monday.

Bonin was executed Feb. 23, 1996, after being convicted of murdering 14 boys in Los Angeles and Orange counties in 1979 and 1980.

McConaghy is expected to rule on the motion today.

Monday afternoon, McConaghy reversed a ruling he had made that morning and ordered Munro to testify about his knowledge of the alleged Bonin link to Trotter.

Munro then recanted the tape-recorded comments, describing each of his claims connecting Bonin to Trotter's murder as "a lie."

"It was payback to Bonin for ruining my life ... for the hatred I have for that man," Munro testified.

"I thought [the investigator] was a cop, and the last time I kept my mouth shut to a cop, I got charged with murder. If I blamed Bonin, fine. I didn't realize how much trouble I'd get in by saying that."

The investigator was actually working for Crummel's defense team.

Armed with Munro's taped statements, Crummel's attorneys, who failed to convince the judge that the Bonin issue could be mentioned in the trial during a motion last year, won the right to have it reconsidered.

Crummel's attorneys attempted Monday to seize upon Munro's taped comments about Bonin and Trotter, in which Munro said Bonin told him about killing a youth "about 14 years old, with blondish, brownish, reddish hair, a little chip in his front tooth, and he told me the name of him -- he told me his name was Jamie Trotter."

Bill Mitchell, the Riverside County deputy district attorney assigned to Crummel's case, countered by asking Munro, "What color hair is brownish, blondish, reddish?" and asking him if he was lying about his allegations linking Bonin to Trotter.

"Yes, I was," Munro testified.

Mitchell read from a transcript of Munro's statements, noting that he said Bonin had driven two hours from Costa Mesa to San Bernardino County and had taken "[Interstate 5] all the way up to the canyons

Mitchell asked, "You were making that all up? [The investigator] mentioned Ortega [Highway], right?"

"Yes, I don't even know where Ortega is," Munro testified.

Munro testified that the defense investigator had flashed him a picture of Trotter before he asked him to identify the boy from a photo lineup of six teen boys.

Munro said he learned details of Trotter's disappearance and death by reading a 1996 news story that quoted police saying the death fit Bonin's pattern of murders. Munro testified that he decided then that if he was ever asked about Trotter's death, he would say Bonin did it.

When a defense attorney asked Munro if he "emblazoned [the details of Trotter's death] in your mind," Munro said, "Yes. I got the names, dates and places out of the newspaper."

Munro testified that he was further swayed to cooperate with the Bonin-Trotter link because Crummel's attorney, Mary Ann Galante, told him at a later meeting that she would defend him "for free" at his next parole board hearing in September.

Galante argued that Munro has recanted his recorded story because he wants the parole board to see him as cooperating with law enforcement authorities instead of defense attorneys.

Outside court, Mitchell said there is "a strong basis for excluding this [from the trial], mainly because it's false."

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