Death-penalty cases are the most expensive in the criminal justice system.
A survey by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Guy found that a death penalty trial costs an average of $388,680 and takes 11 years to go through state and federal appeals.
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
The $15 million dollars spent since 1982, investigating 49 Green River killer related deaths, is just the beginning of what will be a costly case to prosecute.
Washington State Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau officials requested $4 million from Gov. Gary Locke, in August 2001. The funds were, in part, to hire scientists to work the backlog of DNA cases.
County officials estimate the total cost of the Ridgway case at $8 million to $12 million, including further investigation and prosecution. Gary Ridgway and analyze evidence linked to more Green River killings. King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng disagrees.
We do not have a number at the present time,'' Maleng told the Metropolitan King County Council . "It won't be up in the $10 million range."
"We knew we were going to need some help in financing this effort when we realized where the case might lead," Dave Reichert, King County sheriff, said. Reichert informed Sims detectives were pursuing an expensive investigation last August .
Sgt. John Urquhart, King County Sheriff's spokesman said much of the expense will be overtime pay and hiring new patrol officers to replace experienced deputies assigned to the investigation. Additionally, the county will have the expense of paying for additional computers and perhaps private labs to do DNA tests. "It will be a challenge for us to find the resources to Support this," said Budget Director Steve Call.
Sheriff's detectives will focus their investigation on Ridgway's connection to the 4 women he stands accused of killing. Then they will proceed to the evidence from other victims to see if it contains revealing DNA evidence.
King County Sheriff Dave Reichert vowed to spend as much as necessary to renew the investigation. "If I have to go deficit, I will, to move through this year and investigate this case to the fullest extent," Reichert said.
"What would you do? If it was my daughter who was killed, I would expect the Sheriff's Office to follow up that case to the nth degree to find out whoever is responsible. We should not have to go out begging for money."
County Budget Director Steve Call said for Reichert to overspend it would take approval by the county executive and council for but there seems to be strong interest in funding the investigation. "I can't think of an example in which this executive (Ron Sims) and this council wouldn't Support (Reichert's) effort to go after this Green River thing," Call said.
DNA Testing Expenses
There may not be enough technicians to test the materials. The lab has a backlog of 600 DNA testing cases, Barry Logan, director of the state's forensic laboratory, said. He figures there is enough evidence in the investigation to require an additional 4 scientists; 2 in DNA analysis and 2 in "trace analysis," which involves other substances such as hairs, fibers and soils.
"It's a very expensive case," King County Executive Ron Sims commented as he announced the $500,000 federal contribution to pay for DNA testing in 45 Green River cases.
Reichert could not say how much testing would cost or what percentage would be covered by the federal grant. Reichert asked Congressman Adam Smith for assistance early in November.
Smith and US Democrat Sen. Patty Murray worked together to obtain funds for the additional DNA testing through the DNA Backlog Elimination Fund, a Department of Justice program. Smith indicated more money could be coming. "This is what we could get right now," Smith said. He hopes publicity from the successful use of the DNA testing in this case will encourage additional funding.
Smith, raised in the SeaTac area, remembers the the terror in the streets surrounding the Green River Killer in the early 80's. "I can tell you, it had a profound impact on the neighborhood and the community at the time," he said.
Death-penalty cases are the most expensive in the criminal-justice system. A survey by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Guy, last year, revealed a death-penalty trial costs an average of $388,680 and takes 11 years to go through state and federal appeals.
King County prosecutors estimate the case will cost their office about $250,000.
The prosecutor's office may hire 2 additional attorneys to assist the attorneys assigned to the case.
Prosecutors will spend an estimated $100,000 to organize 19 years of police reports and other paperwork.
Bid requests have gone to firms that handled legal documents for Microsoft's fight against the Department of Justice and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, said Dan Satterberg, chief of staff.
Ridgway is represented by private attorney, Anthony Savage.
Savage cut his fees from his usual $200 to $75 an hour, the same as if he had been appointed by the court. Ridgway signed over all he owns to contribute toward the defense. "The fellow was a truck painter for 30 years, so what kind of an estate can you amass?" Savage said.
On 12-17-01, Ridgway's defense team was granted nearly $300,000 by a judge for independent DNA testing and analysis.
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.
Defense lawyers say they may be investigating other possible suspects as part of their case. It is not known if the county will pay for investigators or legal research.
Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne said delay tactics by defense attorneys are partly to blame for the costs of prosecuting capital-murder cases. "It's not even a concealed tactic anymore. They want to make it as costly as possible, especially in these tough times," he said. "They want you to pay as high a price as you can."
David Chapman, criminal defense lawyer, said it is the advocate's duty to question the police investigation, especially when a life is on the line.
King County Tax Payers Toss in $1.50 to Prosecute Ridgway
King County taxpayers will pay $1.4 million toward the Green River serial-killing investigation
King County Sheriff Dave Reichert plans to continue working with Washington's congressional delegation and meet with state lawmakers for financial assistance.
"Obviously, we are going to need your help," Reichert told the council. "The sheriff's office will carry a huge burden in the coming years," he said.
His department will follow hundreds of new tips and will encourage more people to call with information on any of the 49 killings.
Investigators will look at whether Ridgway, charged in four of the slayings, is connected to any of the other 45 deaths attributed to the Green River Killer in the early 1980s.
Authorities also will look at a number of unsolved slayings not previously linked to the serial killings.
The county recently received $500,000 in federal help to analyze DNA in 45 deaths suspected to be linked to Green River Killings.
A large portion of the Green River costs will be compiling the documents and photographs into an electronic database.
Council Chairman Pete von Reichbauer cautioned, "The scales of justice must be balanced, but so must King County's books."
"I don't want to get lost in budget debate, principally because at least 49 women in our community have paid for this crime with their lives," King County Councilman, Larry Phillips said. "Frankly, it is the least we can do to bring these crimes to closure."
Phillips, proposed emergency funding in property taxes to pay for prosecuting Ridgway and reopening the Green River Task Force's investigation.
This increase is accomplished through a special levy Support ing the county's Automated Fingerprint Information System, AFIS, the system electronically matches crime scene fingerprints with those from suspects. This proposal would expand the levy's use by applying AFIS revenues to police and prosecutors for the Ridgway case. AFIS dates back to the 1980s. In September 2000 King County voters approved its continued operation by a large majority, but the full amount was not spent. Council members Larry Phillips and Julia Patterson proposed using the full amount authorized for AFIS and applying it to the Green River cases, and the council voted 10-2 to do that.
Phillip's proposal will raise next year's AFIS budget from $9.85 million to $11.23 million, a 14%. Initiative 747, which limits tax increases to 1% makes an exception for voter-approved taxes.
The tax increase amounts to $1.4 million in 2002. In 2003 costs are expected to be $6 million, $4.6 million short in a budget passed a month before Ridgway's arrest. In 2003, prosecuting Ridgway is expected to cost an additional $4 million. The expense would be substantially more if the trial is moved out of King County.
Councilman Rob McKenna said AFIS was passed by voters specifically for the fingerprint system to quickly identify criminals. "It's one thing to have legal wiggle room because there was some vague language," McKenna said. "What the voters approved and what they thought they approved is what we have to look at. ... It may be possible, but we have to proceed cautiously." Previously, voters were promised their payments on the AFIS tax would decrease each year. This would keep AFIS tax payments at the maximum allowed by law. Raising AFIS tax would Support the prosecutor's staff and the sheriff's budget.
Phillips pointed out under the ordinance it could be used for a "variety of activities related to the identification of detained persons and the identification of crime-scene evidence, as well as assistance in the conviction of criminals from crime-scene evidence. ..." Lawyers advising the County Council and Maleng's office had independently verified AFIS money could be used for prosecuting Ridgway.
In 1993, $138,000 AFIS tax money was used on the Green River investigation to process 500 fingerprints on debris found near victims' bodies.
Councilman Kent Pullen, southeast King County questioned why $1.4 million could not be taken out of King County Executive, Ron Sims' contingency budget or, if voters should be asked to approve an increase. Sims said the $3 million contingency fund is for true emergencies or catastrophes.
Gary Grant, a Boeing machinist from Federal Way, said the county should dip into its contingency fund before increasing the AFIS tax. "What you're telling me is you want to hold on to this (contingency) money and tax everybody else for everything you want to do," he said in an interview before the council action. "Where is it going to stop?"
Sims said the $3 million contingency fund is for true emergencies such as a building collapse.
"This is nominal," Sims said. "We're talking about a buck or a buck and a half a year" for the owner of a $200,000 home.
"South King County has been victimized and haunted for close to two decades now because of the rampage this murderer went on in our area. It has left a dark and eerie sense amongst the citizens of South King County," said Councilwoman Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac. "This minor increase is something I think South King County would approve of."
Lead Green River detective, Tom Jensen, pointed out that the new investigation is not only trying to connect Ridgway to the other Green River slayings. "There's one thing people keep leaving out," Jensen said. "What if he didn't do them? If it turns out there's more than one killer out there, we'd be derelict in our duty to not try to find them."
"The council continues to say, 'Mr. Sheriff, Mr. Prosecutor, we're standing behind you 100%,' and they always say that until the bill comes," Sims said.
Pullen acknowledged the $1.4 million increase is small compared with the county's $2.9 billion budget. "This is the same comment at all the big spenders and taxers say. They say it's only a few dollars more," Pullen said. "Every $5, $10 or more really hurts. .. It appears we've moved into an era of budgeting by theft, and I think the voters would be very concerned about breaking faith," said Pullen.
Maleng and Reichert will have cost estimates in early January.
Maleng promised the request would be "conservative." He said some estimates he's seen are inflated.
By the end of January 2002, they must report how much they expect to spend on the case through 2003 and submit annual cost reports through 2004.
Pullen then agreed the expense-reporting requirements added accountability.
"It does illustrate how wrong it was to cut the sheriff's budget in the first place," he said, referring to the recently passed 2002 budget. Councilman Larry Gossett responded that the sheriff's office actually is getting a 5% increase.
The council unanimously approved that King County taxpayers will pay $1.4 million next year towards the Green River serial-killing investigation.
Outside chambers, Maleng said the costs for extra resources "will be reasonable."
"I think the taxpayers insist that we go forward," with the case, he said. It is considered the nation's largest unsolved serial murder case.
Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006