Lamar Johenkins wife didnt want the fake ring hed bought for just $7. She threw it back at him, and the next morning he tried to sell it. A pawnshop clerk tested it and found out it was made with real diamonds -- a 2 1/2-carat wedding ring -- and then she and her manager realized it was a ring police were looking for.
It was a wedding ring that had been taken from the hand of a murder victim.
Macon police soon arrived. Aurie Bonner III had sold it to Johenkins, he testified Tuesday, during Bonners murder trial in Bibb County Superior Court.
In his opening statement of two minutes, Bonners attorney, Mark Beberman, didnt deny that Bonner knew Christine Cook, or even that Bonner had stolen from the 87-year-old widow. But Beberman denied Bonner was involved in Cooks October 2012 death.
The evidence against Mr. Bonner is entirely circumstantial and as such is lacking in many respects, said Beberman, who asked jurors for nothing more and nothing less than a fair trial. Beberman didnt discuss the nature of Cook and Bonners relationship or the theft.
Prosecutor Sandra Matson said Bonner, Cooks former handyman, came after Cook because she was elderly and alone.
Good people should die of old age in their bed, hopefully, Matson said. Not at the hands of Aurie Bonner III, who strangled her or suffocated her with a pillow.
That pillow -- which appeared to be mostly white, square and decorated with a small picture of flowers -- was entered into evidence by a Macon police officer who tore it out of an evidence bag during court proceedings.
Matson said Cook cant be present to testify at the trial, but the next best thing -- Bonners DNA from under her fingernails -- will be presented. Matson said Cooks body was left on the floor of her bedroom, with clothing draped over her face. A TV from her bedroom dresser was stolen. A dresser in the bathroom that had been filled with jewelry was ransacked, with all of its drawers left open. Police testified her Cadillac had been left about a block from her home.
Matson said Bonner denied being in the house, then denied being in the back, then ultimately blamed the murder on a man known as Top Dog who would be hard to find. Thats because Top Dog doesnt exist, she said.
In a police interview played for jurors, Bonner said he liked the Cooks and never saw anyone suspicious. Its a quiet neighborhood over there, man, Bonner told Macon police Sgt. Scott Chapman. The upbeat interview turned darker as Chapman began discussing his own suspicions. Bonner offered a variety of stories to police questioning, including a claim he hadnt been in Cooks house in more than a month, then for a couple weeks. Then he said he discovered her body, after Chapman said the autopsy showed she had died of natural causes.
Was she already deceased when you got there? Chapman said in the video. Thats how it was, Bonner replied.
Bonner said he had tried to remain calm, even after seeing her leg.
I even tried the CPR, its cool, its cool, he said in the video, before swearing twice.
GBI officials are expected to testify Wednesday that the autopsy instead shows she was killed. Bonner later volunteered the name of Top Dog, but Chapman testified Tuesday that Macon police have found no trace of anyone by that nickname.
As the police interview played, some jurors leaned forward, clasping their hands. Bonner kept his eyes on a notepad on his desk and seemed to lean away from the jurors.
At a different part of the trial, as Matson showed photographs of Cooks body to jurors, Bonner appeared to be restless, then closed his eyes. He has been calm in the Superior Court trial, in marked contrast to an appearance in a jail courtroom, where he was carried in by jailers, whom he threatened to fight.
Cooks daughter, Cheryl Pepper, testified that her mother was always immaculately dressed and had a pitch-perfect house. She kept to a routine, which included turning off the alarm in the morning to get the newspaper, then immediately turning the alarm back on when she was inside the house. Pepper spoke often of her mother in the present tense, and said she was extremely aware of her security.
She was very cautious and very skittish, Pepper testified.
Macon police Sgt. Bobby Newberry testified there were no signs of forced entry to the house. Another officer found one door to the home, from the garage, unlocked.
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.