BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — New developments in the case of a 77-year-old woman accused of the shooting death of her roommate at a local retirement home.
The killing of 84-year-old Winnie Smith happened on July 11th, 2021.
According to the Kern County District Attorney's office, Sandra Bonertz pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter after admitting she shot and killed her friend to end her suffering.
"Winnie Smith was found deceased in her room at the Glen Senior Retirement Community in Bakersfield, having suffered three gunshot wounds to the chest. Sandra Bonertz, who as 76 years- old at the time, was also in the room with the victim, and officers found her in possession of a .357 revolver that was used in the unlawful killing of Winnie Smith. The investigation revealed that Bonertz and Smith had been friends for more than fifty years, and that a recent car accident had left Smith in severe pain. During interviews with Bakersfield Police detectives, Bonertz acknowledged that she had killed Smith and that she had done so at Smith’s request."
District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said Sandra Bonertz accepted an offer to resolve the case by entering pleas of no contest to the charge of voluntary manslaughter with use of a firearm. The lifelong friendship of Bonertz and Smith, Bonertz’s lack of criminal history, and the request of Smith to end her life were considerations in reaching the negotiated disposition, according to a statement from the district attorney's office.
California law does not allow so-called “mercy killings” to be conducted by close friends or family, even in situations where there is evidence that a victim was seeking life-ending care. California has “right to die” legislation that provides an avenue for end-of-life care medications to be prescribed by a doctor and self-administered by the patient. Passed by the state legislature initially in 2015, the “End of Life Option Act” has safeguards to ensure that end-of-life options are delivered by qualified doctors and mental health specialists and requires documented oral and written requests be made directly to a physician, referrals for mental health concerns, checks against undue influence, assurances that the person seeking end-of-life care is fit to make such a decision and alternatives that may assist the patient aside from end-of-life medication.
- Kern County District Attorney's Office
“Intentionally killing a human being, including one who may be suffering from depression and physical pain, is an act that the law does not entrust to even our closest friends and family," explained Zimmer in a statement. "To prevent abuses, the law provides for end-of-life care only in very specific, narrow circumstances, under the care of a doctor, and only with safeguards in place that must be diligently followed. A friend or family member who takes the life of another, even if out of a belief that it is a merciful act, does so in direct violation of criminal homicide laws.”
A condition of the plea deal includes that Bonertz will be sentenced to 10 years in prison for the shooting.
With the plea to the reduced homicide charge, the charge of murder was dismissed.
Sandra Bonertz is expected to be sentenced in April on the conviction.