Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

People vs. Buono

In November, the case went to trial, but was immediately disrupted by continuances, motions by the defense that were appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court. Then there was the matter of jury selection which took three and a half months. The trial began for real in the spring of 1982.

A steady parade of witnesses, including the girls he had brutalized, Becky Spears, Sabra Hannan and others, attested to Angelo's sadism. When it came time for Kenny to testify, he was in no mood to cooperate. That is, until Judge George indicated that he was violating his plea-bargain agreement, which meant that he would be sent back to serve his time in the strict and uncompromising environment of Walla Walla prison in Washington. Kenny changed his tune. While Prosecutor Michael Nash was able to get Kenny to cooperate, defense attorney Chaleff, upon cross-examination, elicited entirely contradictory statements from Bianchi.

Judge George and the jury were transported to the hillsides on which the victims were found. These elaborately planned "jury-views" included a presentation by the key detective at each victim site. It was particularly dramatic in the darkness overlooking the hillsides of the Elysian Valley, where helicopters illuminated where the youngsters Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson were found. It was pointed out to the jurors that Angelo's mother's house and the house where he lived with his former wife were close by these remote spots.

After more than a thousand exhibits and 250 witnesses, the prosecutors got an excellent break. The woman whom Angelo terrorized in the Hollywood library while he was waiting for Kenny to make his calls to the Climax modeling agency the night they killed Kimberly Martin, came forward to testify that Angelo was the man that had menaced her. This testimony tied Angelo to the pay phone, which had been used to summon Kimberly to her death.

Finally, the prosecution was finished and the defense began its efforts. Angelo was not cooperating with his attorneys. Their presentation was considerably shorter. They tried to impugn the testimony of Markust Camden on the basis of mental instability, but were not very successful. Then the defense put on a ridiculous attempt to show that a sticky substance that had been found on Lauren Wagner's breast was left by someone other than Buono or Bianchi. Unfortunately for the defense, their arguments were demolished when it was proven that the substance was secretions from the mouths of the ants that were feasting on Lauren's flesh.

Then, inexplicably, defense attorney Katherine Mader decided to put Kenny's friend Veronica Compton on the stand. She unfolded a vague and unlikely story about a conspiracy between Kenny and herself to frame Angelo. Darcy O'Brien, who experienced this testimony first hand said, "The logic and sequence of this conspiracy were impossible to follow, and her manner, that of a starlet courting recognition on a television talk show -- coquettish, then dramatic, tearful, giggly, self-caressing -- was far more arresting than her conspiracy story…"

Prosecutor Michael Nash cross-examined Veronica and, in so doing, inquired about her plans to open a mortuary with serial killer Douglas Clark so that they could both enjoy sex with the dead. He expected her to deny it, but she didn't. In fact, she said that she was seriously considering it. Not only did Nash succeed in getting Veronica to talk about all the kinky things that she and Clark were planning to do together, he got her to admit that she was angry at Bianchi for talking her into the attempted strangling in Bellingham. So much for the credibility of that defense witness.

Roger Boren gave the closing arguments, which took him 11 full days. He addressed every issue in what had become the longest criminal trial in U.S. history at that time. He concluded with,

The defense at the end of their argument said to you that you could be fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. I will say to you that in the face of all this evidence…both in corroboration of Kenneth Bianchi and independent of Kenneth Bianchi, -- if in the face of reason Angelo Buono is not convicted of murder of these ten women, then you will have been fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. You will have been fooled by him and you will also have been fooled by Angelo Buono over there and by his two attorneys. The evidence supports his guilt and a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury was sequestered and even though the jurors had been a harmonious group for the daunting two years of the trial, it was not at all clear that they would come to an agreement about Angelo's guilt. They began deliberating on October 21.

Finally, the jury came to agreement on October 31, 1983, at least on the murder of Lauren Wagner. Angelo was found guilty. On November 3, they voted that Angelo was not guilty of the murder of Yolanda Washington. A few days later, he was found guilty of Judy Miller's murder. Under California law at that time, as a "multiple murderer," Angelo faced either the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.

(left to right) Lauren Wagner, Yolanda Washington and Judy Miller
(left to right) Lauren Wagner, Yolanda Washington and Judy Miller

Then followed guilty verdicts on Dolores Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, Kimberly Martin, Kristina Weckler, Lissa Kastin and Jane King, and finally, Cindy Hudspeth.

(top row, left to right) Dolores Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, Kimberly Martin  (bottom row) Kristina Weckler, Lissa Kastin, Jane King, Cindy Hudspeth
(top row, left to right) Dolores Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, Kimberly Martin (bottom row) Kristina Weckler, Lissa Kastin, Jane King, Cindy Hudspeth

Angelo then took the stand briefly to show his contempt for the entire process. "My morals and constitutional rights has been broken."

The jury, which was to decide whether to give him the death penalty or life in prison, deliberated for only an hour before sparing him the death penalty. The judge was not happy: "Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi subjected various of their murder victims to the administration of lethal gas, electrocution, strangulation by rope, and lethal hypodermic injection. Yet the two defendant are destined to spend their lives in prison, housed, fed and clothed at taxpayer expense, better cared for than some of the destitute law-abiding members of our community."

Angelo Buono was sent to initially to Folsom Prison, where he stayed in his cell, fearing injury from other inmates. Kenneth Bianchi was sent to Walla Walla prison in Washington, but was trying to get transferred to a prison outside Washington State.

Angelo Buono, 67, was found dead on September 21, 2002 at Calipatria State Prison, said Bob Martinez, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. Associated Press carried the story.

The cause of death was not immediately known but the spokesman claimed that  Buono had a heart condition.  Buono was alone in his cell when he died. There was no indication of any foul play.

"He had assigned duties at the prison, and he was celled by himself because of the nature of his crime," Martinez said. "There was nothing exceptional about his conduct in prison."

In 1986, Buono took a wife while behind bars, marrying Christine Kizuka, a mother of three and supervisor at the Los Angeles office of the state Employment Development Department.

According to Jessica Brice of Associated Press, Kizuka met Buono through her first husband, who spent five months in a cell next to Buono's while serving a term for assault with a deadly weapon in 1983. They were divorced in May 1983.

Prison officials stressed then that Buono would never have a conjugal visit due to the nature of his crimes against women.


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