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Guilty verdict for double homicide

POSTED March 29, 2011 9:51 p.m.

A Merced County jury has returned a guilty verdict for a man who authorities say stabbed to death a married couple after living with them for three years.

Julio Cesar Bonilla, 55, was found guilty of the first degree murder of William Cisneros, 82, a retired Merced City Schools employee and the second degree murder of William’s wife, Maria Clara Cisneros, 42.  The jury also found that Bonilla had personally used a knife in the commission of the offenses and that he had committed theft of a vehicle and a firearm by taking the victims’ Jeep Cherokee and a .30-06 hunting rifle when he fled to Southern California.

The killings occurred in September 2009.

Following the guilty verdict, Merced County Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen sentenced Bonilla to 26 years to life in prison for William Cisneros murder and a consecutive 16 years to life for the murder of Maria Clara Cisneros.  Two more years of state prison were added for the vehicle and firearm theft.  In total, Bonilla must serve 44 actual years in state prison before he is eligible for parole, at around age 99, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold prosecuted the case and called it, “One of the strangest set of facts I’ve ever seen in a murder case.”

During the investigation, detectives uncovered evidence that Bonilla had married Maria Clara Cisneros while they were both in Mexico and then travelled with her to the home she shared with her existing husband, William Cisneros in Merced County.  Despite being married to Maria Clara, Bonilla represented that he was her cousin.  After living with the victims for three years, Bonilla stabbed both people to death and loaded up their car with various items that he took to Victorville, California where he stayed with relatives a short while before fleeing to the state of Louisiana, where he was apprehended a short time later.

The decomposing bodies of the couple were found in their home after the Merced County Sheriff’s Department received a complaint about a couple of starving dogs on the property.

The defense said Bonilla was held in Merced against his will, a fact disputed by the prosecution.  Bonilla also testified that he stabbed William Cisneros in self-defense after William killed Maria in a jealous rage.

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