Suspect, victim identified in Sunday's beating death of a homeless man in the Highlands

Prosecutors have charged Khamsing Hormthoum, 48, with murder in the second degree in the beating death of a homeless man found this past Sunday in the Renton Highlands.

Hormthoum is being held on $1 million bail and is considered a flight risk and an "extreme danger" to the community.

The victim has since been identified as Gerald A. Kimbrough, 52.

Kimbrough's face and head had been severely beaten by a hammer, which was found nearby in a hedge next to a bank, its claw covered with blood.

But passersby recognized his shoes. According to police he was a long-time Renton resident.

The man’s body was found by a walker at about 8 a.m. June 15 in an alcove behind a shop in the Greater Hi-Lands Shopping Center on Sunset Boulevard Northeast.

Officers later learned that the suspect in the slaying also had used that same alcove as a place to sleep. They also knew each; the slaying wasn’t random, said one of the lead investigators in the case.

Renton Police Department Detective Robert Onishi can’t recall a recent homicide in Renton involving transients, although such homicides have occurred in Seattle “with some frequency.”

“Part of the context is that this is a vulnerable population; out of necessity, homeless people in the situation these guys are in often hide from public view,” he said. “That leaves them vulnerable to being victimized by any number of types of people, including other transients”

Another transient offered officers a lead Sunday morning, telling them that a transient who had threatened other homeless men in the Highlands with a hammer was in a nearby convenience store. Officers found him, later identified as Hormthoum, sitting in front of the store with a beer.

Hormthoum had blood on his shoes, pants, jacket, nose and chin, according to the certificate of probable cause filed with the King County Prosecutor’s Office after his arrest.

The tread mark on his shoes matched the shoe tread found near the victim’s body.

Hormthoum initially provided an incorrect name and birth date to officers.

Onishi said officers know most of the street people in Renton but did not know the suspect well, although he apparently had been homeless in that area of the Highlands for several months.

According to the court documents, a transient well-known to police showed an officer a hedge next to a bank drive-through where the suspect stayed. An opening in the thick hedge was big enough to allow someone to crawl in.

In the opening to the hedge was a claw hammer, which had blood on it.

A transient told officers the victim and the suspect didn’t like each other and described the suspect as “mean.” He related how the day before he and the suspect were at a bus stop when the suspect pulled the hammer from his pants and said in any angry tone, “I will kill somebody,” according to court documents.

According to court documents, because the victim had no defensive wounds and the suspect had no injuries, it is likely that Hormthoum killed Kimbrough while Kimbrough was sleeping.

The area where the 52-year-old man was killed is known to Renton police officers as a place where transients gather and drink beer.

“Most, if not all, were often intoxicated; we had multiple contacts with them due to complaints of drinking in public and other ‘public nuisance’-type offenses,” he said.

For some transients, the ability to make good decisions “may well be impaired by a level of intoxication or by drug use,” Onishi said. “People who are socially marginalized may have a tougher time complying with the law, for any of a number of reasons.”

The suspect has an arrest record and was issued a failure to appear order on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

Onishi said he doesn’t think the transient community can be characterized as “threatening” to the public at large.

“I will say that the best policy in general is to be aware of the people and activities around you, and the public should always feel free to call 911 if they think any criminal acts have occurred or are about to occur,” he said.

Additional reporting by Brian Beckley.

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