Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

Pre-Trial Controversy

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.

Judge Ronald George
Judge Ronald George

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 person Angelo was and the way he treated 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 other way to introduce some of the most damaging character testimony about Angelo into the trial.

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 10counts 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 was 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.

Attorney Katherine Mader and Angelo Buono
Attorney Katherine Mader and Angelo Buono

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.

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