Prosecutors came out blasting as Kenneth Arrasmith’s double murder trial opened Tuesday, saying he killed Ron and Luella Bingham “with revenge and premeditation” - not to protect himself or his family.
But for much of the day, it seemed instead like law officers in four counties and five cities were on trial as investigators defended their leaving Arrasmith’s daughter with the sexually abusive couple.
At one point, a Whitman County drug officer acknowledged he had “a gut feeling” that the Binghams were abusing 15-year-old Cynthia Arrasmith when police raided the couple’s home for methamphetamines on April 18.
But the officer, Pat Kelley of the Quad Cities Drug Task Force, said he left her with the couple because there was no legal reason to take her.
The task force is the lead drug agency for Idaho’s Latah and Nez Perce counties and Washington’s Whitman and Asotin counties, as well as the five major cities in the area.
The failure of the task force and the Asotin County sheriff’s department to arrest the Binghams on sex charges are a key element of Arrasmith’s defense. His supporters and Arrasmith himself have argued that lax law enforcement let the couple victimize girls and women for two decades, with only Ron Bingham spending any time in prison.
Arrasmith’s lawyers declined to make an opening statement, reserving the option to make one later. In previous hearings, they have said they plan to argue Arrasmith acted out of self defense for himself and his family.
Nez Perce County Prosecutor Denise Rosen sought to dismiss that notion outright. She said Cynthia Arrasmith was ornery to police and said nothing during the April 18 raid about being abused. When an incident of abuse was later reported to the Nez Perce sheriff’s office, it fell to a deputy with 20 other cases and no experience on sex crimes, Rosen said.
Kenneth Arrasmith never voiced concerns about the investigation to the deputy, she said.
“Not one time did he express any dissatisfaction with how the investigation was proceeding,” she said.
He once told Asotin County Sheriff John Jeffers he was involved in drugs and was interested in informing on a couple - ostensibly the Binghams - involved in drugs as well, Rosen said.
“But he befriended them and he was unsure he wanted to turn them in yet,” she said.
Instead, said Rosen, he plotted revenge. He followed them, watched them through binoculars and obtained a Tec-9, a semi-automatic handgun that “looks like a mini-machine gun,” Rosen said.
On May 17, she said, he went to an East Lewiston auto shop carrying the Tec-9 in a box with holes cut out for easy operation. He opened fire on Ron Bingham as he worked beneath a truck, then used a Ruger fitted with a laser sight to gun down Luella as she tried to flee, Rosen said.
Nez Perce deputies arrived later to find the “scene of a massacre,” with both Binghams dead, Rosen said. They also found the cardboard box with two of Arrasmith’s fingerprints on it.
The Tec-9, found in Arrasmith’s car when he later turned himself in to Clarkston police, was traced to 25-year-old Kyle Richardson, whose preliminary hearing on a murder conspiracy charge began down the hall from Arrasmith’s trial Tuesday.
Foreseeing Arrasmith’s attack on area investigators, Rosen and Special Prosecutor Michael Kane called on the testimony of several officers present when the Bingham home was searched by the drug task force.
Several officers said they decided to leave Cynthia with the Binghams after they found no drugs they could connect to them. Luella also produced a note from Linda Bartlett, Arrasmith’s first wife and Cynthia’s mother, saying the Binghams had permission to give Cynthia medical treatment. The Binghams and Arrasmith told police it was for an abortion to be performed in Spokane the following day.
Joel Hastings, a Clarkston police officer assigned to the task force, denied the officers knew she was being abused. But during the search, he said, he and Kelly searched doggedly for a reason “to get her out of there.”
Craig Mosman, a defense lawyer, later attempted to get Hastings to acknowledge it was because they knew the Binghams had been accused of sex offenses in the past. But he was repeatedly cut off this line of questioning by Judge Ida Leggett, who ruled earlier that the Binghams’ sexual past would be prejudicial and irrelevant.
Finally, Mosman got Kelley to acknowledge he found in the Binghams’ bedroom a box of several hundred pornographic photographs that he later called “the most disgusting pictures that anyone could imagine.”
He looked at random to see if any were of Cynthia Arrasmith, but didn’t find any, he said.
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