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Premeditation is a separate and distinct element of first degree murder. It involves the mental process of thinking over beforehand, deliberation, reflection, weighing or reasoning for a period of time, however short, after which the intent to kill is formed. The time required for manual strangulation is sufficient to permit deliberation. Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.32.020(1). However, time alone is not enough. The evidence must be sufficient to support the inference that the defendant not only had the time to deliberate, but that he actually did so. To require anything less would permit a jury to focus on the method of killing to the exclusion of the mental process involved in the separate element of premeditation.
Leslie Cook, a retarded adult living at the Laurisden Home in Port Angeles, was raped and strangled on February 15, 1982. Bingham was the last person with whom she was seen. The two of them got off the Port Angeles-Sequim bus together at Sequim about 6 p.m. on February 15. They visited a grocery store and two residences. The last of these was Enid Pratt's where Bingham asked for a ride back to Port Angeles. When he was refused, he said they would hitchhike. They took the infrequently traveled Old Olympic Highway. Three days later, Cook's body was discovered in a field approximately 1/4 mile from the Pratt residence. Bingham was charged with aggravated first-degree murder. At trial, the State's expert testified that, in order to cause death by strangulation, the victim's assailant had to have maintained substantial and continuous pressure on her windpipe for three to five minutes. The State argued that that alone was enough to raise an inference that the murder was premeditated. The trial court allowed the issue of premeditation to go to the jury. Bingham was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder. Bingham appealed.
Is the time to effect death by manual strangulation alone sufficient to support a finding of premeditation in the absence of any other evidence supporting such a finding?
The court held that Bingham’s conviction for aggravated first-degree murder could not be sustained because there was no evidence that Bingham had known Cook before the day she was killed or that he had a motive to kill her. A reasonable jury could not have inferred from this beyond a reasonable doubt that he also planned to kill her.