Green River killers trial could be nation's biggest
King County justice officials are looking to some of the nation's most
notorious criminal cases for guidance for the Green River serial-murder
trial -- what a prosecutor called "a case of historic proportions."
Dan Satterberg, the county prosecutor's chief of staff, said the trial of
Gary Ridgway could be the most complex criminal prosecution in American
He told the County Council budget committee yesterday that no single
criminal case has ever spanned so much time -- 21 years so far -- and
involved so many victims, witnesses, documents, leads and pieces of
"There's nothing to compare in the criminal field," he added later in an
Ridgway, 54, arrested in November 2001, is charged with killing 7 young
women. Most of their bodies were found in the Green River between 1982 and
1988. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.
In all, 49 women who disappeared are thought to have been possible Green
River victims. Sheriff's detectives are still investigating cases in which
charges haven't been filed.
For some aspects of preparing for and managing a trial that could last a
year, King County authorities are studying the celebrated cases of
Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and O.J. Simpson.
Locally, the cost of the Ridgway case puts it in a class by itself. King
County has appropriated $12.1 million for the investigation, prosecution,
defense and court administration in 2002 and 2003 alone. No estimates have
been made for future years. The trial is scheduled to begin in King County
Superior Court July 14, 2004.
12 sheriff's detectives are working on the Green River investigation -- 5
primarily on the 7 charged cases and 7 on the uncharged cases and other
duties. Capt. Jim Graddon, commander of the investigation, said part of
the work entails making sure investigators don't attribute to Ridgway some
homicides that could have been committed by someone else -- a factor the
defense probably is also examining, he noted.
Graddon said the case is "unlike anything we've ever seen before ... The
number of tips you receive is incredible."
The court-ordered staffing levels for Ridgway's defense consist of 8
attorneys, 7.5 investigator positions, 2 clerks and 6 paralegals. Ridgway
is paying for one of the lawyers.
As a model for the defense budget, King County Public Defender Anne Harper
said her office is using the Kaczynski case. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to
bombings that killed 3 people and injured 29 and was sentenced to 4 life
terms plus 30 years.
"Their budget was very consistent with our budget," Harper said. She noted
that the Unabomber case had a similar time span, involving attacks between
1978 and 1995.
Superior Court administrators are using the Simpson murder trial as a
model for managing public and news-media access to the Ridgway trial and
have been "working with the people who organized the Simpson trial," said
Paul Sherfey, the court's chief administrative officer.
Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges in the 1994 slayings of his
former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, but a
civil jury later ordered him to pay $33.5 million for their deaths.
The Ridgway trial will be on the 9th floor of the county courthouse under
heavy security. Sherfey said courtroom seating will be reserved for
victims' families and a limited number of news media, with other media
assigned to a separate room from which they may view the trial.
Jury summonses are expected to be sent to 10,000 King County voters, from
whom a list of 500 will be winnowed. Sherfey said those numbers are
consistent with what have been used in other high-profile trials, although
he acknowledged that the "possibly significant length" of the Ridgway
trial and the hardships that could entail might complicate jury selection.