Mark Prothero was known among fellow criminal-defense attorneys as genuine, unflappable and the most decent guy in the room – even when faced with the tough task of defending Green River serial killer Gary L. Ridgway.
For years, his focus was to keep Ridgway from being put to death, and he did.
Prothero, a former champion swimmer at the University of Washington and a well-regarded attorney for more than 30 years, died Saturday at his Kent-area home after battling lung cancer. He was 57.
“He was a wonderful friend, a wonderful father, a wonderful lawyer,” said attorney Todd Gruenhagen, who was on the Ridgway defense team with Prothero. “It was a great tragedy to lose someone this early in life.”
Prothero’s friends said the diagnosis of lung cancer several years ago came as a surprise. He wasn’t a smoker, and he was incredibly fit. Prothero first was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago and after treatment, it went into remission. But then it returned.
Prothero was supposed to leave for Jamaica on Easter Sunday with his wife, Kelly, and their two grown children, Sean and Marley.
“His family was so important to him,” said Greg Girard, a partner at the Kent firm Hanis Irvine Prothero. “They kept him focused and grounded. His kids were everything to him.”
In addition to his children, Prothero is survived by his wife, Kelly. The family has asked that any donations be made to the Kent Parks Foundation and the Washington Husky Swimming Foundation.
Prothero was a star swimmer at Renton High School and swam for the Huskies for four years. He swam on the U.S. national team and was ranked 13th in the world in the 400 individual medley in 1976.
Swimming remained an important part of Prothero’s life. He coached his children and countless Kentwood High School students. He acted as an announcer at national swim meets and served as the chairman of the Pacific Northwest Swimming Board of Review.
Even though he was at the center of many high-profile cases, Prothero “always made sure investigators and social workers were acknowledged,” said Don Madsen, director of ACA.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Prothero “was an absolute gentlemen and one of the real good guys in the legal profession.”
“He was one of those defense attorneys who was a regular guy who appealed to the average juror who wanted to believe everything he said. That’s usually the prosecutor’s schtick,” said Satterberg.
While the Green River serial-murder case made its way through the legal system, Satterberg, as chief of staff at the prosecutor’s office, sat on the opposite side of the table from Prothero.
Satterberg called the case “unchartered territory,” not only because of the massive amount of court filings, but because the proposed plea agreement included Ridgway’s cooperation in locating victims’ remains in exchange for not being put to death.
Then-Prosecutor Norm Maleng agreed he would not seek the death penalty in exchange for that cooperation, and Ridgway then pleaded guilty to 48 killings.