The Nez Perce County prosecutor says Ken Arrasmith is laying plans to call on a nationally known psychologist to claim he acted in the heat of passion in the vigilante-style shooting deaths of Ron and Luella Bingham.
In a motion filed late Tuesday to prevent testimony, Prosecutor Denise Rosen said Arrasmith has been interviewed by Denver psychologist Lenore Walker about his state of mind during the May 17 murders. Rosen said she expects the psychologist will testify that Arrasmith did not act out of malice but “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”
While Walker has earned a reputation as the nation’s top expert on spousal abuse, her testimony could be used to contend the Bingham killings were not a premeditated act - warranting two death-penalty charges of first-degree murder - but an act of manslaughter.
Rosen’s motion comes just as jurors are scheduled to be screened today and Friday in an undisclosed location in southern Idaho. If all goes as planned, the sequestered panel will begin hearing arguments Monday in Lewiston.
In a case attracting international attention for its suggestions of frontier justice, Arrasmith is charged with killing the Binghams, whom he claims sexually abused and tortured his teenage daughter. Since the murders, some 17 other victims have come forward to say they, too, were victimized by the couple over a period covering nearly two decades.
Arrasmith has denied killing the Binghams while his family and other supporters have suggested that whoever killed them was justified in doing so to protect other potential victims.
Arrasmith’s defense team last month lost a bid to have some of the Binghams’ other victims testify. The team has not discussed its defense strategy publicly and Craig Mosman, one of the defense lawyers, Wednesday declined to say whether he plans to bring up Arrasmith’s state of mind during the trial.
“It’s close enough that people can just wait,” Mosman said.
Mosman did say Rosen’s motion was off the mark.
“We’ll address it when the hearing actually is held on the motion, but there are a number of things that she asserts as fact and a number of assumptions that are just incorrect,” he said.
Mosman tapped Walker’s services last year during his successful defense of Patricia Gallagher, the Boundary County woman charged with murdering her abusive husband while he slept.
Nationally, Walker is known for numerous books on spousal abuse. She interviewed O.J. Simpson for more than 50 hours for his defense, concluding he did not fit the classic description of abusers who kill.
Walker could be used to determine if Arrasmith was under a state of “continuing provocation” typical of abused spouses, said Myron Schreck, a University of Idaho law professor.
Such a condition would prevent him from cooling off prior to the murder, thereby cutting into the prosecution’s argument that the killing was premeditated, deliberate and therefore worthy of a first-degree charge, Schreck said.
Rosen argues in her motion that Walker’s testimony is impermissible and irrelevant and would only mislead the jury and delay the trial. Under Idaho law, she said, Walker’s testimony could not be used as evidence of Arrasmith’s intent.
“Intent is not determined by expert testimony in a murder case,” Rosen wrote. “Intent is inferred from the commission of the acts and the circumstances surrounding those acts.”
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