After more than 30 years behind prison walls, Harold Bingham had his big chance. Parole was a couple of months away.
But with freedom within reach, the 49-year-old career criminal apparently got spooked.
Last summer, he escaped, scaling a fence at Pine Lodge Pre-Release, a minimum-security prison camp near Medical Lake. He was caught a couple of weeks later breaking into a nearby home.
It was such a clumsy burglary, with Bingham hiding outside in the bushes afterward, that authorities figured he wanted to be caught.
That theory seemed to be confirmed Thursday, when Bingham became the first criminal in Spokane County to get punished under the state’s “Three Strikes, You’re Out” law.
He did so willingly - rejecting his lawyer’s advice to go to trial, and, if necessary, challenge the constitutionality of the lock ‘em up law.
Instead, Bingham walked into court and claimed responsibility for the break-in.
He listened stoicly as Superior Court Judge James Murphy imposed a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Defense attorney Gary Hemingway had already prepared one thick legal brief attacking “Three Strikes” and had another in the works.
But his client was ready to return to prison.
“That was his decision, not mine,” Hemingway said Friday. “He become somewhat fatalistic about it.
Bingham declined to be interviewed Friday.
Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay could only guess that since Bingham had been institutionalized so long, life on the outside must have been a frightening prospect.
“In the past 32 years, he was out of custody for about seven months,” Hay said.
The biggest stretch behind bars came in the early 1970s, after Bingham escaped from Larch Mountain Honor Camp near Vancouver. He wound up gunning down a Steamboat Springs, Colo., police officer after a high-speed chase.
Convicted of second-degree murder, he spent nearly 18 years in Colorado prisons before being returned to Washington in October 1990 to serve time for the escape.
Hay said the 1972 murder and a 1969 robbery were Bingham’s prior “strikes.”
The law, which took effect in December 1993, mandates a life sentence for offenders convicted of three “most serious” crimes.
But even without “Three Strikes,” Hemingway said his client was looking at a prison release date in 2008 if convicted of first-degree burglary.
“We discussed his options at length,” Hemingway said.
“But he felt that once you get a conviction for killing a law-enforcement officer, you don’t get many breaks from the criminal justice system.”