Local businessman held on California murder charges

Christian Leonard Bunty is taken into custody on murder, conspiracy and robbery charges out of California. (Courtesy photo)

SANDPOINT — A Cocolalla man was arrested Tuesday for his alleged involvement in a 17-year-old double murder in California.

Christian Leonard Bunty is charged in San Bernardino County with two counts of murder and single counts of conspiracy to commit murder and second-degree robbery.

Bunty, 40, is being held at the Bonner County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Bunty’s Idaho defense counsel, Larry Purviance, said his client will fight extradition to California. Purviance declined further comment.

A status hearing on the extradition proceedings is set for next month.

Bunty and an alleged accomplice are accused of killing Mark Wayne Adamson and Joseph Gerald Riley in July 1995. Barstow Police detectives believe the two victims were murdered and buried in a California desert.

The alleged accomplice in the killings, James Linzy Franklin, 41, is already serving a life sentence without parole for an unrelated homicide in Big Bear, Calif. He’s currently incarcerated at Centinela State Prison near El Centro, Calif., according to the Desert Dispatch newspaper.

Investigators contend Bunty and Franklin offered to sell the alleged victims ephedrine, a stimulant used to manufacture methamphetamine. But investigators believe there was no ephedrine and the defendants staged the deal in order to rob the men.

Around the time of the killings, Bunty, Franklin and others were suspected of posing as FBI agents and robbing drug dealers at gunpoint in south-central Los Angeles and other communities.

“They would rob drug houses,” said Barstow Police Det. Keith Libby.

Investigators believe the killing of Adamson and Riley was a more violent variation on the crew’s modus operandi of targeting those involved in the drug trade because they would not report the robberies.

“It just falls into the same pattern,” Barstow Police Det. Sgt. Andrew Espinoza Sr. said.

Franklin and a nephew were arrested prior to a robbery in Victorville, Calif. Bunty managed to escape, but later surrendered and was convicted of impersonating a federal agent, investigators said.

Bunty was placed on probation, which was later transferred to Idaho.

Bunty appears to have lived a mostly law-abiding life in Idaho. Aside from traffic and boating violations, Bunty has no criminal record, according to the Idaho Supreme Court Data Repository.

Idaho Secretary of State business entity records indicate he is the owner of A-Team Excavating, a limited-liability corporation in Cocolalla.

A judge in San Bernardino County issued a $1 million arrest warrant on Nov. 28, court records show.

Libby and Espinoza said they interviewed as many as 150 people over the years about the disappearances of Adamson and Riley and their statements have remained largely consistent despite the passage of time.

The Barstow detectives said the assistance of Idaho State Police investigators in Coeur d’Alene proved vital to Bunty’s uneventful arrest at a Sagle restaurant.

“He was surprised and that’s what we wanted,” Libby said.

•••

Information sought

Those with information about Christian Leonard Bunty and his alleged involvement in the disappearance of two men in California are asked to Barstow Police Det. Keith Libby at (760) 255-5134. Those who wish to share information anonymously can call (800) 78-CRIME.

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