Bonita Haynes slaying at LCI: 20 years later

By Greg Sowinski - [email protected]

Bonita Haynes

Robert Lonberger

John Daniels

This file photo shows a memorial service for Bonita Haynes, who was murdered 20 years ago Saturday at Lima Correctional Institution.

File Photo

LIMA — Twenty years ago Saturday, the bloodied, partially nude body of case manager Bonita Haynes was found in a bathroom at the now-closed Lima Correctional Institution.

She had been brutally assaulted and her throat slashed. Two inmates, both of whom likely would never have gotten released, were convicted of killing her and received life sentences on top of their existing sentences.

The crime

Although Inmate Robert Lonberger was believed to be the principal player behind the crime, he would later plead to a murder charge for which he was given a life sentence in exchange that he testify against co-defendant John Daniels at trial.

Many believed Daniels was brought along for help as the “muscle” to help control Haynes. Lonberger, 51, was not in the best of health with a heart problem and diabetes. Daniels, on the other hand, was very fit for a 54-year-old man. Prison records showed he could bench press 350 pounds, deadlift 500 pounds, was a former boxer who trained other inmates and won sprint races in his age group each year.

The two men started hanging around in the weeks leading up to Haynes’ death. There was no indication in the investigation file Haynes ever had any run-ins with Daniels, or even knew him, but she knew Lonberger well.

The 29-year-old Haynes, who co-workers described as attractive with a beautiful smile, reported Lonberger stalking her and believed he was the inmate who wrote a series of obscene love letters to her. Haynes’ supervisor told her to avoid Lonberger but Lonberger was not disciplined or moved.

Lonberger also had a history of similar crimes to the Haynes murder. He once was on death row for killing a woman in 1975 in Toledo by slashing her throat. He also was a leading suspect in two similar murders in Illinois that were not pursued after a death penalty conviction was obtained in his Toledo case. His death sentence was overturned by an appellate court and he was given a life sentence.

Daniels was a serial rapist likely to spend the rest of his days behind bars.

Investigators would find under Lonberger’s bed after the killing a copy of Haynes’ work schedule. They also would discover Lonberger shaved off all his body hair in the days before the killing.

The night of the murder, about 5 p.m., Haynes was going to join a group of employees for dinner at a nearby restaurant but didn’t have cash on her. She turned down an offer by another employee to let her borrow money saying she had cash in her purse back at Sigma Unit where she worked as a case manager.

The prison housed 2,094 inmates that day in a set up where inmates lived in dormitories and had free rein to walk around most of the medium-security prison for men.

Her last communication with a prison staff member was at 5:05 p.m. The other employees waited for a few minutes near the entrance and had Haynes paged at 5:15 p.m. but she never answered and they left for dinner believing, perhaps, she got tied up helping an inmate and would join them a short time later, a common occurrence.

But she never did and the employees returned. Jeff Robey, another case manager, said they paged Haynes again with no answer.

Robey had a group session to run so he was unable to check on her. Haynes was paged several more times in the next two hours with no answer.

Shortly after 8 p.m., and just before quitting time for Haynes and Robey at 8:30 p.m., Robey asked if anyone heard from Haynes. No one had.

Robey asked someone in the control room for keys to Haynes’ office to check on her and another employee tagged along. When he opened the door to the unit and walked in there were signs of a struggle. Haynes’ office was a mess with papers thrown everywhere and a trail of blood from Haynes’ office to a restroom on the unit.

Robey walked into the restroom at 8:20 p.m. and found Haynes nude from the waist down and lying face down. Her hands were bound and her throat slashed.

Contributing factors

There was a lot of finger pointing after Haynes’ death. In the days that followed, emotional prison employees blamed management at the prison and in Columbus. Gov. George Voinovich also was blamed saying he ordered the state prison system to make due with less money.

Robey, who retired in 2007 from Oakwood Correctional Facility after the closure of LCI a few years earlier, said he and others fought to have a policy against working alone and to have man-down alarms that would activate if a person was knocked to the ground.

“There were all kinds of checks and balances that could have happened that didn’t,” Robey said last week.

In the days following Haynes’ murder, correctional officers cited similar problems along with overcrowding and not enough officers to properly monitor inmates and keep each other safe.

Former Allen County Prosecutor David Bowers, who led the prosecution of the case, said Lima Correctional was never designed to be a prison. It originally was a state hospital for offenders with mental problems.

There were blind spots and too many places to hide. Haynes’ office was behind two doors, one to her office and the unit door, which could be locked. There was no way to look inside at the time, he said.


Shortly after Haynes’ death, there would be changes. A working alone policy was implemented that meant employees could not be forced to work alone against their will, only if they chose to. Man-down alarms also were made available for all employees, Robey said.

“There were more checks and balances put in place to keep track of where people were,” Robey said.

Robey said he did not work alone after that.

The current Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction staff safety policy prohibits staff from working alone against their wishes, which is defined as working with at least one inmate in an area the staff member cannot be observed or heard by another employee without the aid of a mechanical device.

The state prison system also requires a written Employee Safety Plan that has accountability procedures for employees working after 6 p.m.. Prisons also must have sufficient safety equipment available, and a system of notification to the control center in case of employee emergency or duress alarm. If such an alarm is activated, staff must respond and a supervisor must visually clear the alarm, according to ODRC records.

The safety plan also requires one contact per hour between 6 p.m .and 6 a.m. and the contact must be documented. A review of the Employee Safety Plan must taken place annually, according to records.

ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said, “It is standard procedure for DRC to conduct a full review of policies and procedures following any significant incident and make necessary changes where opportunities for improvement are identified.”

Bowers said changes often come after a tragedy happens.

“It was a real tragedy that anyone had to meet death that way. When tragedies happen, oftentimes procedures that should have been in place beforehand, that’s what prompts change to take place,” Bowers said.

Haynes’ brother, Brian Haynes, said Friday it’s sometimes hard to believe his sister is gone but at the same time he knows she is.

“We are still deeply saddened by the tragedy,” Haynes said. “The only thing you can do is move forward. As tough as it might be the only thing you can do is move forward.”

With that, Haynes said he prefers to reflect on the positive changes that followed his sister’s death. There are safer working conditions in Ohio prisons, a scholarship fund was established in her name, and the local chapter of African Americans in Social Work was named after her.

“When I compare 20 years ago to today, I look at the potential that was taken away,” Haynes said. “There is always the issue of lost potential but some positive did occur as a result of this tragedy.”

There also was the investigation by the Ohio State Highway Patrol that was highly criticized for the way it was handled, particularly the interrogations of Lonberger and Daniels. Both men confessed to being involved in the murder but each man pointed the finger at the other as the actual killer.

Those statements, however, never made it to trial. State patrol investigators gave what they called a “soft Miranda” warning referring to a Miranda warning or the advising of constitutional rights to a suspect.

“I had never heard of a ‘soft Miranda,’” Bowers said.

Before the case was over, though, it would become a well-known phrase and a big headache for Bowers.

Daniels’ lead attorney, Bill Kluge, said that was the biggest part of a defense he orchestrated for Daniels and would help block any evidence linked to the rape or attempted rape of Haynes.

“They really screwed the pooch by reading him his rights piecemeal and then if he wanted a lawyer they said they could appoint one to him but not right now so why didn’t he just answer questions now,” Kluge said last week.

Judges handling the case for both men suppressed the statements finding neither inmate was properly advised of his constitutional rights.

“When we played the tape of the officers trying to take statements from Daniels, Judge [Mike] Rumer’s face turned purple,” Kluge said.

Rumer said he remembers the “soft Miranda” well. He said it really hurt the prosecution’s case and ultimate helped both men avoid the death penalty. Bowers said he believed both men raped or tried to rape Haynes but without the statements he was unable to prove it.

Numerous staff members said after the Daniels trial both men got away with murder. They also said it made it more dangerous to work in a prison because there would be few and insignificant consequences for killing a staff member.

Bowers said for the first time publicly last week that high-ranking officials from the state patrol, including the colonel who oversaw the agency, drove to Lima after the statements were suppressed and patrol investigators were criticized for their mistakes.

“They were not happy with the bad publicity. They did not want that happening again,” Bowers said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol was contacted to see if any changes were made in policy or procedure after the Haynes murder investigation. Lt. Robert G. Sellers issued the following statement: “The Ohio State Highway Patrol reviews all policies to ensure constancy and best practices with State and Federal laws.”

20 years later

Looking back on Haynes’ death two decades later, Robey said it’s something he tries not to think about, especially because he’s been retired for nearly a decade. But it sometimes comes up in conversation or when he is asked about it.

“Blame? There’s so many variables in that,” he said.

He and other employees at the prison wanted both men to get the death penalty.

“I wanted both to get tried for the death penalty. If the evidence supported it, then that’s what they should have got,” Robey said.

Bowers wanted the death penalty, too, and was highly disappointed and frustrated when he was unable to obtain it but said in the end it may not have mattered. Lonberger would die less than two years after killing Haynes. He spent the last days of his life locked in a small cell by himself without a television and few privileges at a maximum security prison. Daniels’ remaining years were similar. He died in 2010.

Bowers said numerous appeals would have kept both men alive well beyond the years they died.

Robey wished the state had done more sooner to protect employees but there were so many factors or “what ifs” that happened or went wrong. Others wonder the same.

•What if Haynes made it to dinner with employees that night, would the inmates have eventually killed her?

•What if the administration did more about Haynes’s concern about Lonberger?

•What if there was a policy against working alone before her death or Haynes had a man-down alarm?

Haynes’ family filed a lawsuit alleging she was subjected to unsafe working conditions and not enough measures were put in place to ensure her safety. It also alleged Haynes and other employees were not properly trained to recognize and avoid unsafe working conditions.

The family later would settle with the state for $850,000, an amount some believed was too low but the attorney for Haynes’ family said at the time it was fair considering laws that made it hard to sue the state. Other factors were present such as the risk associated with working in a prison.

Whether the changes that took place were enough remains a topic of debate to this day among those who worked with Haynes and those responsible for the safety of staff. What is true is Haynes’ death marked the last staff member in the agency killed by an inmate, something all agree they hope does not change.

Bonita Haynes Haynes
Robert Lonberger Lonberger
John Daniels Daniels
This file photo shows a memorial service for Bonita Haynes, who was murdered 20 years ago Saturday at Lima Correctional Institution. file photo shows a memorial service for Bonita Haynes, who was murdered 20 years ago Saturday at Lima Correctional Institution. File Photo

By Greg Sowinski

[email protected]

Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.

Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.

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