Spring Valley murderer dies of natural causes after 35 years on death row

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A view of the California State Prison at San Quentin (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN DIEGO — A man who spent 35 years on death row for murdering and dismembering a Spring Valley mother of two died of natural causes over the weekend, authorities reported.

Bernard Lee Hamilton, 64, was pronounced dead Saturday morning at a Sacramento medical center, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A San Diego County jury sentenced Hamilton to death in March 1981 for the slaying two years earlier of 24-year-old Eleanore Buchanan, CDCR Lt. Sam Robinson said.

Hamilton was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Buchanan on May 31, 1979, after she caught him burglarizing her vehicle in a parking lot at Mesa College, where she was enrolled in a night math class.

Her body, missing the head and hands, was found the next day alongside Interstate 8 in Pine Valley. Buchanan, who had given birth to her second son three weeks earlier, had been stabbed multiple times.

At the time of the crime, Hamilton lived with his parents in Linda Vista, about a mile from the college the victim attended. He was arrested a week after the killing in Oklahoma, where deputies spotted him driving the victim’s stolen blue Dodge van.

Jurors found Hamilton guilty of murder and burglary in January 1981.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 70 condemned inmates have died of natural causes, 25 have committed suicide, eight have died from other causes and 15 have been executed.

There currently are 747 offenders on California’s death row, Robinson said.

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