Sentencing hearing gives families of Ridgway's victims their turn to speak

Grief: For many, session will cap 20 years of pain

December 18, 2003 

Today, it's their turn.

After grieving for lost loved ones for decades and watching Gary Leon Ridgway's murder case unfold for the last two years, the families of the Green River Killer's victims will get to talk.

At Ridgway's sentencing hearing in King County Superior Court for the murders of 48 women, families will get 10 minutes each to tell him, the court and the public how they feel.

"It's (a chance) to be able to express to the courts what this man has done to their lives," said Lew Cox, a chaplain and victim advocate who works with eight of the families. "It's very cathartic for families, because they only get one chance."

The families won't have the spotlight to themselves.

Ridgway, too, will have a chance to speak, and plans to take it.

"I haven't reviewed (the statement) with him," defense attorney Tony Savage said. "I assume it's a statement of sorrow and remorse and regret, which nobody is going to believe anyway."

Ridgway's family won't come to the hearing - because they don't want to be in the media - but attorney Michele Shaw will read a letter from them, expressing grief for his victims' families but also love for Ridgway.

None of the statements will affect the sentence Superior Court Judge Richard Jones will give Ridgway.

When the Federal Way-area truck painter pleaded guilty Nov. 5 to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder, he ensured that he would spend the rest of his life in prison but not face execution.

Officials have estimated that 20 of Ridgway's victims' families will speak today. For some, that will formally end 20 years of anxiety.

"Twenty years of pain," said Cox, who helps families mostly in King, Pierce and Thurston counties. "Twenty years, for many of the families, of not knowing that their loved one was a victim of the Green River Killer, 20 years of imagining that their loved one is out along the Green River somewhere.

"All of that has been festering and brewing for all these years, and they're going to be able to step in front of the court and say how this has affected their lives."

Since Ridgway's arrest Nov. 30, 2001, and especially since he began cooperating with investigators in June, the public's focus has turned from the young women he hunted and strangled to the elusive killer himself.

That's painful for the families of victims generally.

Jackie Kekona's brother, Gary Alfiche, was killed by his girlfriend, Cindy Musgrove, in Tacoma in July 2002. After listening to a trial that seemed to be all about his killer, Kekona said it helped to tell her side at Musgrove's sentencing in November,

"I basically spoke out that she viciously and maliciously stole him from us," said Kekona, who lives in Lakewood.

"I think it does (families) a lot of good to speak out and share their feelings, because it is emotional," she said. "It gives them a sort of emotional release."

Tacoma resident Lee Peden said that during Allen Gregory's 2001 murder trial for killing her daughter, Geneine Harshfield, it helped to testify as jurors decided whether the defendant should die for his crime.

"It was a help, to make people realize that Geneine was somebody that was near and dear to us," said Peden, who barely celebrates Christmas since her daughter's 1996 death.

"The fact that she was taken from us so brutally and so horribly was something that was just hard for us to deal with and to understand why," she said.

Not everyone takes the opportunity, though.

Brian Toews didn't want to talk at the sentencing hearings for eight youths who killed his brother, Erik Toews, in a random beating Aug. 19, 2000, near Wright Park.

His pain was too personal.

"I thought maybe it was a little redundant to get up and do it," Toews said. "As far as needing to say it in front of the people being convicted or accused or tried, I guess I just didn't feel like it was going to make any difference."

Toews, still grieving the loss he said will never go away, said he worries that having so many families speak at Ridgway's sentencing will dilute the impact.

"I wouldn't dream to think of taking away somebody's chance to put things to rest for them," he said, "but it sort of seems like, 'Gosh, well, here's your 10 minutes.' For me, that doesn't do it."

Savage said he wouldn't try to deny the families a chance to speak.

"But I'm not sure what value it has," he said. "How many names can they call him? I don't mean to be too cynical, but maybe I'll keep track of how many times he's called an animal."

For those who speak at the hearing, it will be a long, emotional day as they describe the little girls and women they loved.

"Certainly, this is one more step in them being able to acknowledge what's happened, and to represent their daughter the best they can to the court and the world," said Kathleen Larson, a detective and spokeswoman for the Green River Task Force.

"Ridgway, whether it means anything to him or not, will hear what he's done and what his actions have meant to these families. Some of these families were devastated.

"He will sit there and he will listen to this, and God willing, some of it may sink in."

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660

Today on TV

KIRO-TV will cover the Gary Leon Ridgway sentencing hearing with reports at noon and in an expanded newscast starting at 4:30 p.m.

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