Aurie Bonner III left a sign of his guilt -- a pair of pants -- covering the eyes of his victim, 87-year-old widow Christine Cook. The Macon man was sentenced to life without parole Wednesday for the 2012 slaying.
Prosecutor Sandra Matson said the pants pointed to Bonners guilty feelings, hiding the dead womans eyes as he ransacked her jewelry box nearby. The jury found Bonner guilty in just 52 minutes, convicting him of five charges in the murder of Cook, who was found strangled or suffocated on the floor beside her bed.
Bonner sold the 2 1/2-carat diamond wedding ring off Cooks hand for $7 and her bedroom TV for $50. The jury convicted Bonner of malice murder, burglary, aggravated assault and two counts of felony murder Wednesday.
He put a price tag on that lovely ladys death: $57. Thats sick, ladies and gentlemen. Thats sad, Matson said.
For a few moments Wednesday, Bonner indicated he wanted to testify in his own defense. After his lawyer reminded him that hed face questioning from prosecutors and wouldnt be able to just make a statement and sit down -- as a judge told him moments earlier -- Bonner decided not to testify. His defense team offered no witnesses, but worked to raise doubts about GBI evidence and other parts of the investigation.
Superior Court Judge Howard Simms, a former prosecutor, sentenced the 32-year-old to life in prison without parole, the highest possible penalty in the case.
This was about a cold-blooded killing as Ive ever had to sit and listen to evidence on, Simms said.
Hes taken his last breath as a free man, said District Attorney David Cooke, who observed the end of the case.
A medical examiner, Melissa Sims, testified that Cook had been strangled and perhaps suffocated. A square white pillow decorated with a picture of flowers was found near her body.
A GBI forensic expert, Robert Busam, testified that Bonners DNA was found under the fingernails of one of Cooks hands. DNA from the steering wheel of Cooks Cadillac, dumped one block from her home, also matched Bonner.
Bonner told police, in a videotaped interview shown to jurors, that hed loved Cooks Cadillac. He said he also liked her.
I like the Cooks. Theyre good people, said Bonner, who had done yard work for Cook with his father.
But in that interview, Bonner initially said he hadnt been near Cooks house in more than a month. Then he said it had been about two weeks. Then he said hed only gone in the kitchen to eat a banana, but had never been back.
Under more police questioning, he said hed found Cooks body and tried to give her CPR. Later, he said another man, whom he identified as Top Dog, had actually killed her.
A Macon police sergeant testified there was no Top Dog.
Matson disagreed in her closing arguments to the jury Wednesday, reminding them that Bonner told police Top Dog would be difficult to find.
Top Dog is sitting right over there, Matson said, gesturing to Bonner. Bonner stared back at the prosecutor, then shut his eyes for several seconds.
That quiet demeanor was dramatically different from Bonners first appearance in a jail courtroom, when jailers had to carry him in by his arms and legs. He threatened to beat the deputies during that appearance.
But during the trial, Bonner was quiet, often taking notes. When photographs of Cooks body were introduced, he appeared restless, then also closed his eyes. While the police interview was playing for jurors, he seemed to lean away from them.
Bonner showed little emotion as the verdict was read.
Cook stood an inch shy of 5 feet. Bonner is 10 inches taller and weighs 185 pounds.
Matson pointed out their size difference to the jury in her closing arguments.
Miss Cook had to fight for air she was trying to breathe. Not even 5-foot-tall lady, 87 years old, 137 pounds, having to fight to live, with a much stronger, able young man whod wrapped his evil hands around her neck. And for what? His selfish desire and evil wishes to take what belonged to her, her property, because he wanted it. She paused. No disputing it, ladies and gentlemen.
The jury didnt dispute it. In less than an hour, jurors agreed Bonner was guilty of all five counts. Simms considered Bonners three prior felony convictions in his sentencing.
Matson said after the trial that the state didnt offer him any kind of plea deal because we wanted him to get the ultimate punishment.
Bonners public defender, Mark Beberman, said he was disappointed in the verdict.
Cheryl Pepper, Cooks daughter, said she spoke every night to her mother, whod had a vibrant social life.
As active as she was, I feel like she just had so much to live for, Pepper said during the sentencing phase of the trial, her voice breaking. We miss her so much.
She said she was very happy with the verdict.
He didnt have to kill her, Pepper said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.