State

Trial in stabbing deaths of couple

MERCED -- A 53-year-old man will stand trial in the fatal stabbing last year of a husband and wife, a Merced County judge has ruled.

And in a bizarre turn of events, evidence emerged in court Thursday that the female victim may also have been married to the defendant.

Defendant Julio Cesar Guevara Bonilla is accused of killing William Cisneros, 82, and his wife, Clara Cisneros, 43, in their 440 Mission Ave. home, just south of Merced. Merced County sheriff's deputies found the couple's badly decomposed bodies inside the laundry room of the house Sept. 30.

After listening to testimony from Merced County sheriff's detectives and Bonilla's relatives during a preliminary hearing, Judge John Kirihara decided evidence exists to try Bonilla in the killings.

Detective Chuck Hale, the lead investigator in the case, testified Thursday that Bonilla claimed under questioning that he was married to Clara Cisneros. Among the documents gathered as evidence, Hale said detectives recovered a Mexican marriage certificate bearing the names of Bonilla and Clara Cisneros as husband and wife.

Some of William Cisneros' relatives were under the impression Bonilla was a cousin of Clara Cisneros, Hale said.

Hale also testified Bonilla admitted to detectives that he stabbed William Cisneros, although the defendant claimed he did so after intervening in a fight between the couple.

Bonilla told investigators William Cisneros had stabbed Clara Cisneros with a knife during the argument. Bonilla claimed William Cisneros then came after him with the knife -- and he took the knife and turned it on William Cisneros, stabbing him.

According to Hale, Bonilla said he then walked outside momentarily, and went back into the house, where he saw William Cisneros walking unsteadily. Bonilla told investigators he then may have stabbed William Cisneros again, but couldn't remember because he was feeling "crazy" and upset, Hale testified.

When asked whether Bonilla's story to investigators could be true, Deputy District Attorney John Goold, the prosecutor in the case, said "there's no indication of that in the evidence."

Bonilla's attorneys, Caleb Hegland and Christopher Loethen, had no comment after the hearing. When asked about Clara Cisneros' marriage status, however, Loethen said it appears she married William Cisneros in the United States about 17 years ago and married Bonilla in Mexico in 2006. County records indicate Clara Cisneros married William Cisneros, a landscaper, in 1992.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense would elaborate on whether Clara Cisneros' marriage status was related to the killings.

Sheriff's investigators believe Bonilla was living with the couple and had worked in their gardening business.

Bonilla is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, in addition to possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a stolen gun and possession of stolen property. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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