Bryan Kim, the mentally ill teenager convicted by a Spokane jury last month of murdering his parents, will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Before his sentencing Thursday by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen, Kim rose and asked for the 44-year sentence his public defender had proposed as an alternative to life behind bars – a request Eitzen denied.
He half-turned to the courtroom, where his older sister Jessica Kim and her fiancé Scott Howard sat with family friend Bruce Hayton. “I wish to formally apologize to anyone I’ve harmed by my actions,” Kim said.
Eitzen, addressing Kim, said she’d found it incredibly sad to sit through the trial of someone barely older than a child and considered a monster by the public. “Everyone in the courtroom wished it would go away,” Eitzen said.
Eitzen said she had no choice but life in prison for Kim under state sentencing laws for aggravated murder and felt a life sentence was the right result. “You’re a danger to your family and a danger to the community,” she added.
Eight victim witness letters submitted to Eitzen before sentencing showed little unanimity on Kim’s fate.
Hayton was the only person to speak in the courtroom, delivering a harsh critique of Kim for lacking any remorse for the murder of his parents and making a “choice” not to take his medications for bipolar disorder. He called on God to flood Kim’s brain with vivid memories of what he’d done. Testimony from two psychiatrists during Kim’s trial said he had no memory of the murders.
In his letter to Eitzen, Hayton said he and his wife have been godparents to Jessica Kim since the murders and will serve as her substitute parents at her upcoming wedding. But Jessica will be plagued for the rest of her life by the loss of her mother and father, he added.
“I beg you to sentence Bryan to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Hayton said, citing concerns over Jessica’s safety should Kim be released from prison.
Katherine Dillman, Kim’s maternal aunt, asked in her letter for mercy for her nephew. She criticized the Spokane County prosecutor’s office for not accepting a plea bargain that would have kept Kim out of prison, and she criticized her dead sister as a “very controlling individual” who charged Bryan for rent, food and his medicine for bipolar disease.
M. Rose Stowell, another maternal aunt, lashed out at the jury for seeming to ignore Kim’s “documented history of mental illness.”
“This is a young man who fell through the cracks, did not receive proper treatment or diagnosis, causing him to spiral out of control,” she wrote. Stowell asked Eitzen to place her nephew in a safe environment with treatment and consistent medication.
Jessica Kim did not speak in court. In her letter to Eitzen, she said she’d “battled with the ideas of love and family” in the aftermath of her parents’ deaths.
“Despite everything he has done, my brother is still my close family, and I still love him,” Kim wrote, noting she’d kept his commissary account full of money so he could buy extras while in the Spokane County Jail and provided “respectable clothes” for him to wear in court.
However, Kim noted she’d be marrying soon and plans to have children. “I do not trust that I can keep my family safe with Bryan at large….I see his release at any point as a major threat to that family,” she wrote.
Kim was found guilty in January of two counts of first-degree murder for stabbing his father, Richard Kim, and bludgeoning and strangling his mother, Terri Kim, on Dec. 5, 2006 as they returned to their Mount Spokane home after work. He was also convicted of second-degree possession of stolen property and second-degree theft for taking his father’s bank card and transferring $1,000 from his parents’ account to his the day after the murders.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll told the jury that Kim planned the murders because he was angry his parents were about to kick him out of the house after escalating arguments over his grades and his failure to take his medications. He called the murders an “execution.”
Kim’s lawyer, public defender John Stine, brought in a forensic psychiatrist from Texas, Dr. Michael Arambula, a national expert on childhood mental illness. Arambula said Kim was incapable of planning the murders because of his bipolar disease and couldn’t remember what he’d done.
But the jury apparently was swayed by the state’s psychiatrist, Dr. William Grant of Eastern State Hospital, who said Kim suffered from “anti-social personality disorder,” not bipolar illness, and was capable of planning the crimes even though he couldn’t remember them.
Stine asked the jury to consider a second-degree murder charge, saying the murders were a “crime of rage and not premeditation.” But the verdicts returned were the toughest possible: two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.