For a second time this year, Ronald Jay Bianchi is back before Clark County Superior Court jurors, being tried on attempted murder charges.
His retrial stems from a 1997 bank robbery that ended in a gunbattle with police; but this trial will focus specifically on whether Bianchi helped his co-defendants try to kill two Vancouver police officers.
In February, Bianchi was found guilty of first- and second-degree attempted murder of Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Craig Hogman, as well as numerous lesser charges.
However, jurors were unable to decide on four counts of first- and second-degree attempted murder, alleging Bianchi was an accomplice in the intended murders of Officers Lawrence Zapata and Adam Millard.
Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster told jurors to pay attention to Bianchi’s actions, such as positioning the getaway car to ambush pursuing officers, when he could have put space between himself and law enforcement at two points during the police chase.
Bianchi and his cohorts “displayed a willingness to kill,” Foerster said.
Defense attorney Katie Kauffman said jurors would have to decide on a “very narrow” issue over the course of a two-week trial – what was in the minds of Bianchi’s two co-defendants, who were shot and killed while running from police.
“Even when taking the state’s case into account, you’ll see that they were trying to get away,” not murder police officers, Kauffman argued.
Pipe bombs, grenade
On Oct. 17, 1997, Bianchi, Michael Brock and Aaron Ahern set off pipe bombs as a diversion behind a Kmart store on Andresen Road. Armed with guns, they then entered a bank about 2 miles away wearing trench coats and ski masks. They made off with several thousand dollars, according to prosecutors.
As they drove away, their stolen car was spotted by Hogman, who gave chase. While Bianchi drove, Ahern and Brock fired at the sergeant out of the car windows.
Brock took a grenade from his pocket and tossed it at the police cruiser occupied by Zapata and Millard on Blandford Drive, but it didn’t go off, Foerster said.
Bianchi crashed the stolen car on Blandford Drive and a gunbattle ensued. Ahern and Brock were killed. Bianchi escaped into a wooded ravine, only to be captured a short time later near Fort Vancouver High School.
The men “used weapons on officers who were trying to stop them. They were going to end that day any other way than in jail,” Foerster said.
Bianchi has already spent more than 20 years in prison. After his arrest, he pleaded guilty to 13 counts in connection with the robbery at the former SeaFirst Bank branch on East Mill Plain Boulevard and was sentenced to 72 years in prison.
But in February 2017, the Washington Court of Appeals vacated his convictions on three counts of attempted first-degree felony murder after Bianchi’s attorneys successfully argued that that crime doesn’t exist in Washington. (The appellate court said a defendant commits felony murder, regardless of intent, during the commission of a felony crime, such as a bank robbery; it’s impossible to attempt something that’s unintentional.)
Bianchi then withdrew his guilty pleas and opted for a trial on amended charges. Following that trial earlier this year, the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to dismiss the undecided charges and filed for a retrial.