Ridgway's fine a hedge against windfall

December 20, 2003 

In addition to sentencing Gary Leon Ridgway to life in prison, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones told the Green River Killer he'll also have to pay $480,000 in punitive fines.

And that's not all.

Prosecutors soon will start tallying Ridgway's restitution - money his 48 victims' families had to spend on funerals, burial costs and headstones.

In reality, defense lawyers say, the families of the women Ridgway murdered between 1982 and 1998 will never see that money.

"I don't think he'll be able to pay 1 cent," said Tony Savage, who led Ridgway's eight-lawyer defense team. "The guy's broke.

"They start them off in prison with salaries of 17 cents an hour. If he doesn't get himself killed first, he might work himself up to a job at some point or another. The imposition of fines of $480,000 is largely symbolic."

Not true, said chief criminal deputy prosecutor Mark Larson.

"I want to say it's symbolic, but it's not," he said. "It's more than a symbolic act."

You never know when or how inmates might come into money.

"People can earn money, people can inherit money," the prosecutor said. "Frankly, it's a hedge against that."

If Ridgway, 54, gets money in any way, his victims' families should have some of it, Larson said.

The Department of Corrections takes 5 percent of inmates' wages to pay for victims' compensation. It takes another 20 percent of the wages of inmates working in prison industries (though not from the lower-paying janitorial or clerk positions) to pay legal obligations.

Washington has a "Son of Sam" law that prevents people who have killed from profiting from the description of their crimes, though it hasn't been tested in court, Larson said.

"There's still the possibility that law could be declared unconstitutional," he said. "That is probably as likely as having a rich aunt die."

But prosecutors are guarding against it.

Ridgway's sentence included language that if any writer, filmmaker or television producer tries to buy his story, the court will review the contract.

That covers only Ridgway, though. His family, if they wished, could sell their stories.

Authorities won't be able to take money from Ridgway's wife, Judith. Savage said the Ridgways legally separated for that reason.

"That was our intent, to try and protect her from being thrown out on the street," Savage said.

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

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