Ridgway done taking police on searches

Serial killer: Sentencing scheduled for Dec. 18

November 26, 2003 

Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway is finished leading investigators to places where he dumped women's bodies after strangling them during a nearly 20-year killing spree.

The 54-year-old Federal Way-area truck painter will be sentenced next month for hunting and killing 48 women.

When Ridgway pleaded guilty Nov. 5, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones said he would hold off on sentencing the serial killer for six months, to give investigators time to work with him.

"He has taken them to every place he thinks he left a body," said Dave Roberson, one of the attorneys on Ridgway's defense team.

Green River Task Force detective and spokeswoman Kathleen Larson said she feels confident that's true, but that task force members will continue to interview him until his sentencing.

"During that time, if his memory is triggered from whatever, or we find a reason to take him out, we can do that," she said.

Roberson said Ridgway might continue to talk to the task force even after his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 18.

He has incentive to do that because, if he tells investigators about crimes, they won't seek his execution for them; if they link him to something he hasn't talked about, he again could face death.

Larson said the task force searched a small area in Tukwila on Monday, and have a search planned for next week, and possibly another one after that.

The weather is making it harder to search the areas where Ridgway has led them since June, when he made a deal to work with investigators to save his life.

It's unclear what detectives will do in the spring, Larson said.

The families of the 44 victims who have been identified will get to express their grief and rage to Ridgway and the court next month, in a sentencing hearing that could take more than a day.

Each family will get to talk to the judge for 10 minutes, Larson said. Family members can have one person speak for the entire 10 minutes, or divide the time between loved ones. Or, Larson said, they can write a letter instead.

The judge has set aside time Dec. 19 to make sure everyone gets to speak, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for Prosecutor Norm Maleng.

Ridgway, too, could make a statement.

But what anyone says won't affect the sentence. Because prosecutors didn't seek the death sentence, Jones must sentence Ridgway to life in prison without the possibility of release.

In confessing to crimes spanning 1982 to 1998, Ridgway described his chilling agenda, saying he hated prostitutes and set out to kill as many as he could.

The murders seemed to start July 15, 1982, when 16-year-old Wendy Coffield, who had grown up in Puyallup, was found dead in the Green River. In the years that followed, women's bodies turned up on the river bank, in ravines, in the woods.

Most of the women disappeared from the SeaTac strip, a portion of road then known for sex trade. Others disappeared from Seattle streets.

Ridgway, a husband, father and former Navy seaman, was an early and enduring suspect in the murders, but evaded investigators for years, even passing a polygraph.

He was arrested and charged with the help of new DNA technology.

This year, he was facing aggravated first-degree murder charges in seven women's death when in April he proposed helping them solve more than 40 slayings.

Maleng agreed, saying he could give families closure they needed.

The agreement covered only crimes committed in King County. Officials in Pierce and Lewis counties want to talk to Ridgway about unsolved cases in their areas, and two unsolved homicides in the Portland area have previously been attributed to the Green River Killer.

Tim Meehan, whose sister, Mary, was one of Ridgway's victims, said it will be good to get the sentencing over with early, "and send him to his resting place."

"I guess you can say it's like an early Christmas present from the prosecutor's office," Meehan said. "And hopefully somebody can charge him with murder from another county and they can put him to death."

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660
karen.hucks@mail.tribnet.com

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