Saying Monday that “this is not the wild, wild West,” a judge sentenced vigilante murderer Ken Arrasmith to life without parole for gunning down Luella and Ron Bingham last May.
Second District Judge Ida Leggett said she could understand the “anguish and rage” Arrasmith, 44, felt upon learning his daughter had been raped and abused by the Clarkston, Wash., couple.
But she said the court is required to send a message that no amount of rage justifies killing “two unarmed people.”
“The best you can do when there is frustration and anger and a lack of understanding from everyone around you is just step back,” Leggett said. “This is not the wild, wild West, regardless of what anyone says. We don’t make heroes of people who shoot other people.”
Arrasmith has drawn national attention for murdering the couple in an East Lewiston automobile repair shop on May 17.
Investigators testified that Ron Bingham was on his back beneath a pickup truck when Arrasmith shot him 23 times. He then shot Luella Bingham seven times - six times in the back. Because she was running away, jurors in November decided her death warranted a first-degree murder conviction.
Leggett sentenced Arrasmith to life without parole for Luella Bingham’s murder and imposed a concurrent term of 25 years to life for Ron Bingham’s killing.
Arrasmith, described by a psychologist as the type of person who keeps a tight lid on his emotions, was subdued as the sentence was announced. As spectators were ushered from the courtroom, he smiled at his wife, Donita Weddle, then blew her a kiss.
Weddle and other family members left the courtroom tearful and stunned.
“Even for this judge, I’m shocked at the severity of the sentence,” said Weddle, who had criticized many of Leggett’s earlier decisions, including her barring any testimony about the Binghams’ sexual history during the trial. Nearly two dozen women came forward to defense lawyers after the murders to say they had been abused by the couple.
Cynthia Arrasmith, who was 15 when the couple raped and abused her last year, was tearful but adamant that her father would eventually be released.
“He’s going to get out on appeal,” she said.
But Rilla Smith, mother of Luella Bingham, said Arrasmith got what he deserved.
“He brought it on himself,” she said. “He sentenced himself. You don’t take the law into your own hands.”
Letters urging a lenient sentence poured in from across the country, Leggett said Monday.
Lenore Walker, a Denver psychologist and expert on traumatic-stress disorders, testified Monday that Arrasmith poses no danger to the community. Walker said the shooting was triggered by a nervous breakdown.
But Nez Perce County Prosecutor Denise Rosen said drug use may have also been a factor.
Rosen said Arrasmith’s boss had to relieve him from a truck-driving assignment shortly before the killings “because of paranoia or an anxiety disorder,” and a pre-sentence report mentioned by Roy Mosman, one of the defense laywers, said he was fired as a Coca-Cola truck driver for doing drugs on the job. Mosman said the claim was unfounded.
Leggett said several factors spoke on Arrasmith’s behalf: his demeanor in court, supportive family and lack of any previous felony convictions.
“There was indeed in this case strong provocation - the injury of a child, the abuse of a child, the rape of a child,” Leggett said. “Without having to listen to Dr. Walker for one minute, I know these are events that can cause anguish and rage.”
But Leggett came down hard on the brutality of the crime: Arrasmith preparing for days, monitoring the Binghams’ movements, amassing weapons and ammunition, then concealing the murder weapons before visiting the couple.
The judge also noted that Arrasmith, who made no remarks on his own behalf Monday, has shown no remorse for the bloodshed.
Leggett wondered if Arrasmith would behave similarly if a family member was again wronged by people he felt “don’t deserve to live.”
Vaguely alluding to a similar situation in her own family, Leggett said she pondered the frustration of seeing a loved one hurt - and wanting to act on that frustration.
“When you ask the question: ‘What would you do?”’ she said, referring to the anthem of Arrasmith supporters, “my response is, ‘Nothing.”’
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