NBC’s “Today Show” canceled when it couldn’t get an on-camera interview with the accused. But CNN has called and the German magazine and television show “Der Spiegel” already is in town.
The people of Germany are interested in this American notion of “frontier justice.”
Television viewers around the world stand to learn about it starting today as Ken Arrasmith goes on trial for the murder of a Clarkston, Wash., couple accused of sexually assaulting and torturing his daughter.
The case’s trappings of Western-style vigilante justice, along with the unsavory aspects of victims Ron and Luella Bingham’s past, have drawn the attention of ABC’s “20-20,” “Good Morning America” and a host of television tabloids.
But if evidence already on file is any indication, the picture to be painted by the Nez Perce County prosecutor is likely to be far different from what viewers have seen so far on the tube.
Through the arrest of an alleged accomplice and various motions in the past few weeks, Arrasmith’s public image has begun to slip from outraged father to methamphetamine-snorting, deadbeat dad.
Which image prevails will be key as the prosecution paints him as an out-and-out vigilante who took the law into his own hands. Arrasmith’s lawyers, Roy and Craig Mosman of Moscow, have told Judge Ida Leggett they plan to use self-defense and protection of others as a basis for their case.
One hundred witnesses are on tap for the trial, and at last count 334 exhibits were prepared. Because the pre-trial publicity has been so extensive, a jury has been picked from southern Idaho and will be sequestered for the length of the trial, estimated at two to three weeks.
Arrasmith, a 44-year-old truck driver and former Asotin County, Wash., sheriff’s deputy, faces two first-degree murder charges punishable by death. According to police, he visited the Binghamses in an East Lewiston auto shop last May 17, pulled a Tec-9 semiautomatic handgun from a box and shot Ron Bingham 23 times as he worked underneath a pickup. He shot Luella Bingham six times in the back as she tried to run, police said.
A magistrate judge at Arrasmith’s preliminary hearing said Luella’s murder was, in effect, the execution of a witness. Nez Perce County Prosecutor Denise Rosen said the case “reeks of vigilantism.”
But if vigilantism was at play, many Arrasmith supporters say it couldn’t have happened to a sleazier pair. Some 17 victims have come forward with accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of the Binghams. Tina Cole Turner, the most outspoken victim, said their murderer simply “put Satan back in his place.”
But only Cynthia Arrasmith, the 16-year-old daughter molested by the Binghams, will get to testify in the case after Leggett barred the accounts of other victims.
While Leggett rocked the Arrasmith defense with that ruling, numerous events rocked Arrasmith’s public image as well.
As Arrasmith asked the court to pay his attorneys’ fees last month, Rosen accused him of hiding assets to avoid $31,000 in child support.
According to an affidavit by Genesee, Idaho, resident Meradell Geltz, Arrasmith once said he got out of paying child support by putting all his assets in the name of his wife, Donita Weddle.
Arrasmith’s vigilante hero image was further tarnished with the arrest of Kyle Richardson, a 25-year-old auto repairman and accused methamphetamine user.
On Tuesday, Richardson will have a preliminary hearing on a charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
According to court documents, Richardson provided Arrasmith with the stolen Tec-9 used in the murders and offered $2,500 to another man to murder “a couple of people.”
Jerry Jobe of Lewiston, a self-described gun collector who allegedly sold Richardson the Tec-9 for $300 to $400 of methamphetamine, told an investigator that “Kyle was into pushing meth and Ron Bingham was involved in drugs with Kyle.”
Arrasmith has asserted from jail that Richardson “has nothing to do with this” and accused the prosecution of manufacturing the charges to bolster a weak case against him.
Richardson himself, in repeated interviews with investigators, said he became good friends with Arrasmith through one of Arrasmith’s ex-wives. They liked the outdoors and hunting, and would shoot squirrels with Richardson’s own Tec-9.
With Jobe and Jobe’s uncle, John Sweat, the two snorted lines of methamphetamine from a toolbox in Richardson’s shop, according to a transcribed interview with Jobe.
Sweat told police Arrasmith was a regular meth user.
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MEMO: ID headline: “Images collide today at Arrasmith trial”