A Riverside County jury convicted a parolee Friday of first-degree murder for shooting a Riverside police officer in 2010, a brutal slaying that occurred after the officer pleaded with the killer.
Earl Ellis Green, 46, faces a possible death sentence for the murder of Officer Ryan Bonaminio, an Iraq War veteran who had been on the force for four years.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning with the guilty verdict with special circumstances that would make Green subject to execution. The same panel is scheduled to return to court on May 21 for the penalty phase of the trial.
The trial began with defense attorneys acknowledging that Green had shot and killed Bonaminio in a church parking lot in November 2010. Green’s attorneys tried to convince jurors that their client should be convicted of a lesser charge that would not carry the death penalty, saying he was in mental distress after being exiled from his family.
On the night of the shooting, Green, a convicted felon then on parole, jumped out of a stolen big rig that had been involved in a hit-and-run accident and ran into Riverside’s Fairmount Park.
Bonaminio, 27, chased Green into a parking lot at an adjacent church. When the officer slipped in the mud near a stairwell, Green emerged and bludgeoned the officer with a metal pipe, prosecutors told the jury. Green then took the injured officer’s .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and chambered a new round, according to the prosecution.
Stephen J. McQueen, a homeless man who volunteered at the church, told the jury that he witnessed the shooting while smoking a cigarette in the parking lot.
Bonaminio held his hands up and told the killer, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it,” McQueen testified.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Michael Hestrin said Green’s first two shots missed the officer. Green then walked up to Bonaminio, severely injured and on his knees, and fired at the back of the officer’s head from a foot or so away.
“He died there, on the cold and dirty asphalt,” Hestrin told the jury.
Among the evidence presented at the trial was Bonaminio’s gun, which later showed traces of the officer’s blood and DNA, and was found in a closet inside the home of Green’s girlfriend. Green’s fingerprints were lifted from electrical tape he apparently used when hot-wiring the rig.
The jury also convicted Green of vehicle theft and gun charges.
Bonaminio was a military police officer in the Army, serving in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq, as well as in Kuwait City and Hohenfels, Germany. When he left the military to join the Riverside Police Department in 2006, he remained in the Army Reserves and was called back to duty in Iraq in 2008-09.