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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kim convicted of first-degree murder

Bryan Kim leaves court Tuesday after being found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder for the slaying of his parents. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Bryan Kim, a 19-year-old with mental problems that started in second grade and later exploded into violence, was found guilty of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the stabbing of his father, Richard Kim, and bludgeoning and strangulation of his mother, Terri Kim.

The verdict means Kim faces life in prison. He also was found guilty 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.

The slim teenager stared straight ahead as Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari S. Eitzen read the verdict of the eight-woman, four-man jury late Tuesday morning. Jurors had deliberated since last Wednesday in the high-profile case, which included bloody crime scene photographs and conflicting testimony from two psychiatrists about whether Kim was able to premeditate the crimes.

His 22-year old sister, Jessica Kim, had tears in her eyes after the verdict and declined to speak to the media. She had testified for the prosecution on escalating tensions between her brother and parents over his failure to take his medication for bipolar disorder and their decision in December 2006 to force their son to leave home.

The Kims were murdered at their Mount Spokane home Dec. 5, 2006, as they returned from work.

Premeditation was essential to the state’s aggravated first-degree murder charges.

Chief Deputy Criminal Prosecutor Jack Driscoll told the jury in his closing arguments that Kim killed his parents because he was angry they were about to kick him out of the house and had been charging him $1,000 for rent. “Bryan Kim knew exactly what he was doing and why,” Driscoll said in his closing arguments, calling the murders an “execution.”

Driscoll was on vacation and unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Spokane County Public Defender John Rodgers said he was distressed by the verdict, the toughest available to the jury, which could have convicted Kim of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

“I’m disappointed the system can’t seem to account for mental illness,” Rodgers said. “Why did (prosecutors) have to charge the maximum on this?” Before the trial, when Kim’s public defender John Stine was preparing to stress his mental problems, prosecutors sought their own evaluation of Kim from Dr. William Grant, of Eastern State Hospital.

In contrast to the other psychiatrists who’d examined Kim – diagnosing him with bipolar disorder and prescribing medication to calm his violent outbursts – Grant said Kim wasn’t bipolar but suffered from “antisocial personality disorder.” Grant also testified that Kim has no conscience and could have formed the intent to murder his parents.

The public defender’s expert, Dr. Michael Arambula, of San Antonio, was introduced to the jury as a nationally recognized expert on childhood mental illness who had testified in more than a half-dozen cases in which children killed their parents.

Arambula said Kim suffered from depression at an unusually early age – second grade – and was misdiagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and given stimulants that aggravated his violent outbursts. Arambula said Kim couldn’t have formed the intent to kill his parents.

Both psychiatrists agreed Kim couldn’t remember the murders and wasn’t faking mental illness.

The jury was given the option of returning lesser charges if it didn’t agree with the state’s aggravated first-degree murder charges.

Driscoll said Kim was capable of problem-solving behavior, describing his efforts to clean up the murder scene and hide his parents’ bodies in an outbuilding.

Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Douglas Marske, the lead detective, told the jury how Kim went shopping the morning of Dec. 6, using his father’s debit card to withdraw $1,000 from his parents’ account.

“His parents had given him a deadline. They needed to die so he could have what he felt he was entitled go,” Driscoll told the jury.

Deputy public defender Stine noted that Kim didn’t do what rational people intent on hiding evidence would do. He didn’t bury his parents’ bodies in the woods or flee the area – he simply went shopping the next day and arrived back at Mt. Spokane High School shortly before noon to meet his girlfriend.

“Bryan did not plan these crimes,” Stine said.

He asked the jury to consider a second-degree murder verdict. “The evidence this was a crime of rage and not premeditation is overwhelming,” Stine said.

The jury was drawn from many parts of the county. Female jurors were an administrative assistant, a nurse, a retired nursing assistant, a homemaker, a cook, a mammography coordinator, a painter and a paralegal at a major law firm.

The men were a firefighter, a retired electronic assembly worker an electronics project manager, and a retired electrical engineer.

One juror, a Spokane Valley homemaker, cried when Eitzen polled the jury, asking whether each juror agreed with the verdict.

Patrick Sazama, projects manager at Washington Manufacturing Services and the presiding juror, declined comment as the jury left the courtroom Tuesday. The other jurors followed suit.