California's 'freeway killer' executed

February 23, 1996
Web posted at: 10:55 a.m. EST

SAN QUENTIN, California (CNN) -- California's "freeway killer" was executed early Friday, the first person in the state's history to die by lethal injection.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal by William Bonin, convicted in 1982 of sexually abusing, torturing and killing 14 young men and boys in 1979 and 1980.

Bonin -- once called "a poster child for capital punishment" by California Governor Pete Wilson -- was declared dead at 12:13 a.m. A survivor of one of Bonin's attacks witnessed the execution -- he burst into tears while watching the injection.


About 100 demonstrators gathered outside San Quentin prison. Some, carrying homemade nooses, were supporters of capital punishment, while others were opposed to the death penalty.

"We don't rape rapists, we don't burn arsonists, why should we kill killers?" said actor Mike Farrell, a longtime opponent of the death penalty. "It seems to me that when you have a system that kills, it is teaching people that it is appropriate to kill." (238K AIFF sound or 238K WAV sound)

Others simply disagreed. "They have the right to feel that way but I don't," said Valencia Esperanza. "I feel the opposite of what they do." (Another supporter of the death penalty. 218K AIFF sound or 218K WAV sound)

Bonin left 14 beaten, sexually abused and strangled bodies along California's freeways in 1979 and 1980. His victims ranged between 12 and 19 years old. In an interview with a San Francisco public radio station Thursday, Bonin said that his victims' families would feel no better once he was dead.


"They feel that my death will bring closure," he said. "But that's not the case. They're going to find out."

Bonin's attorneys sought a reprieve for the client by arguing that he was not given a fair trial, but were unsuccessful.

The 49-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former truck driver was the third California prisoner to be executed since the state's death penalty was reinstated in 1977, but the first to die of lethal injection.

California changed its method of execution from the gas chamber in 1994 after a U.S. District Court judge ruled the method violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, because it could cause "horrible pain" for several minutes.



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