One of Seattle's most prominent lawyers, Tony Savage, is representing Gary Ridgway's defense at the familys request.
The cost for defending Ridgway will be $950,000 a year in public funds, according to Jim Crane, administrator for the King County Office of Public Defense.
December 18, 2001 -- The arraignment:
Extra officers were on hand for the hearing. Security was so tight one of Ridgway's attorneys, Mark Prothero, wasn't allowed in the courtroom once the hearing started.
Savage entered a "not guilty" plea on his clients behalf at the arraignment on 12-18-01, charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Marcia Chapman, Cynthia Hinds, Opal Mills and Carol Christensen.
Prothero will be focusing on the DNA evidence prosecutors say link Ridgway to Chapman, Mills and Christensen. "We have to go back 20 years," Prothero said of the evidence, "and look at every hand it's been through. "Maybe it was all done correctly," he added, "but maybe a mistake was made."
Ridgway was ordered to appear in court again Jan. 2, 2002 when King County prosecutors will decide to seek the death penalty.
On 12-17-01, Ridgway's defense team was granted nearly $300,000 by a judge for independent DNA testing and analysis. Besides independent DNA testing it will pay for a defense forensic pathologist and a computer specialist to help lawyers navigate the thousands of computerized documents they will be given.
Mark Prothero, member of Ridgway's 4 lawyer defense team, said he would take a close look at the way the DNA was preserved and analyzed. "This evidence was collected a long time ago ... maybe there were some mistakes along the way," Prothero said. "I'm hoping that there is sufficient quantity to retest."
Prothero said that even though Ridgway is only charged in four cases in the Green River killings, prosecutors will make the deaths of all 49 women an issue at trial. "It's apparent from their public posture we're going to be trying 49 cases they're going to try to link him to," he said.
12-12-01, Savage requested the county pay for an additional 4 defense attorneys because the case is so large. Jim Crane, administrator for the King County Office of Public Defense, said his department is considering the request but will have to involve county finance officials and the court in any decision. The latest costs boost the public expense for defending Ridgway to a record $950,000 a year before the case goes to trial, said Crane.
Ridgway signed over all he owns to contribute toward the defense, Savage said.
Savage cut his fees from his standard $200 an hour to $75 an hour, the same rate as if he were appointed by the court.
"The fellow was a truck painter for 30 years, so what kind of an estate can you amass?" Savage said. Even though Ridgway has assets he could qualify for public defense or public financing for private attorneys.
Tim Ford, a well-known specialist in death-penalty litigation, estimated defending a client against so many charges could require between 2,000 and 5,000 hours of attorney time. Never before in American courts has one person faced the possibility of so many murder counts for separate crimes. How will how the defense handle the charges against him?
As Anthony Savage put it, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
They say he's guilty. We say prove it and we don't think they can," Savage said. "He's looking forward, eventually, to his day in court."
"We're gonna get this fellow a fair trial," he said. "If it isn't doable in two (years), we'll do it in five."
Savage said he intends to "reinvestigate" the case, which he said would require him to track down witnesses to events almost 20 years old.
"It's going to be a long process. We are going to defend. We are not going to roll over and play dead. We are going to have our day in court and we are going to get a fair trial."
"Any experienced defense attorney who receives an aggravated murder case begins their work with the presumption that prosecutors will seek the dteam. eath penalty, even if it's just one body," said Mark Prothero, a public defender on Ridgway's defense.
The Paper Work
The amount of paper work is overwhelming.
All of the tips called in to police over the past two decades, all the follow-up investigative reports, forensic reports, DNA test reports, surveillance of suspects and crime scenes, out of area checks on suspects, victim information, missing-persons reports, crime-analysis studies and psychological profiles of suspects, etc. need to be collated, copied and delivered to the defense.
Even if prosecutors do not charge Ridgway with more than the four current victims, defense will have to analyze all 45 of the others, if not more. Potentially exculpatory evidence in the 45 could cast doubt on the four Ridgway is charged with.
Any accidental omission of any information, relevant or not, could be grounds for appeal. If information withheld was relevant the defense, a new trial could be granted.
Once turned over to defense, they will have to investigate each piece of material for itself, a process that could take months, said Professor John Junker of the University of Washington Law School.
Ridgway will require a huge commitment of time from his lawyers.
"It's not just the number of victims and number of events," Tim Ford, a well-known specialist in death-penalty cases, said, "but the amount of police work that needs to be reviewed ... 20 years of police work. It doesn't matter if they charge four or 49. In that case (only charged with 4), you'd have to look at them all even harder, because that's the whole question. If he's not guilty of those, what about these?"
"You'd want to get all the discovery you can from the prosecution," Junker said, "find out everything they know, or think they know, and that might be a daunting amount of material."
So many charges is overwhelming because jurors might vote guilty believing with so many charges, some must be true.
Typical Defense Tactics
In preparation of and during trial these are typical approaches used by defense similar cases, historically and sometimes successfully include:
Efforts to suppress evidence based upon possible faulty searches or improper interrogations.
Attack the credibility of witnesses, some no longer be available for a number of reasons.
Attack forensic evidence, including the STR DNA testing. Savage will attack DNA evidence. Savage said "DNA is not the word of God."
Assertion police have targeted the wrong man.
Contend someone else is the real Green River killer.
In the last chance department there is the defense based on mental disease or defect to present mitigating evidence to a jury. This would most likely require Ridgway's family, friends and coworkers to testify to establish his emotional and psychological conditions contributing to his actions.
Plea negotiation. Ridgway would agree to plead guilty to his murders and help locate the seven missing Green River victims in exchange for a lesser sentence (like life in prison). Both Savage and King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng have adamantly stated there would be no plea negotiation.
However, if Ridgway offered to help locate the missing, Maleng would be under pressure from victims and their advocates to take the plea. Already several victim's families have stated this is what they want.
Consider "proportionality" though. If the prosecutor's office previously has sought the death penalty for those accused in fewer murders it would be difficult to justify for a man believed to be guilty of nearly 50 murders.
Chief deputy prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, noted this rewards someone for committing more murders.
Likewise, if it's the
only way for Ridgway to avoid the death penalty maybe he and his
attorney should be more open to the concept as well.
Savage and Norm Maleng, King County Prosecutor immediately agree on 2 major issues, in addition to no plea bargaining there will be no change of venue.
According to Savage "there's no better place in the state to try a murder case than Seattle. Omak and Coupeville are wonderful places, but not for a murder case."
Savage's first priority is to persuade Maleng not to seek the death penalty. If the prosecutor goes for the death penalty, Savage will prepare a mitigation package arguing against it, but would be surprised if Maleng changed his mind.
King County's Office of Public Defense had not determined if Ridgway is eligible for public funds towards counsel costs.
When Ridgway was arrested Nov. 30, 2001, he was represented by public defender Mark Prothero, as is customary in first court appearances.
Ridgway's relatives were referred to Savage.
Facts about Defense Counsel - Tony Savage, 71, has been a member of the Washington State Bar Association since 1955. He served as a King County deputy prosecutor from 1956 to 1962 and has been a lawyer for 45 years.
Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006