Special Reports

Plea deal saved $10 million

Green River Killer Gary Ridgway's plea bargain could save King County as much as $10 million in court and investigative costs the government had budgeted had his case gone to trial, according to King County Executive Ron Sims.

Even though Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 charges of aggravated first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty, investigators continue the search for more victims. The cost of the ongoing investigation could cut into some of the anticipated savings, said Beth Goldberg, King County budget supervisor.

The county has spent $10.9 million on the investigation, prosecution and defense of Ridgway's case since his arrest in November 2001. In 2002 alone, the county spent $5.7 million on Ridgway's case, compared with $3.4 million on 17 other aggravated murder cases that year, Goldberg said.

"The size of this case is unlike any we've certainly seen in Washington state history and now the largest serial case in the nation, so yeah, the magnitude is huge," Goldberg said.

In a letter last week to the King County Council, Sims proposed putting $6 million earmarked in 2004 for the Sheriff's Office, Prosecuting Attorney's Office and Public Defender's Office into a reserve account. The account already holds $4 million for investigative costs associated with the Ridgway case.

Sims said the money could help offset an expected $22 million deficit in 2005 and an $18 million deficit in 2006 in the county's criminal services budget.

Sims said the Ridgway savings could be set aside for an annexation proposal. Sims wants to spend at least $10 million to encourage cities to quickly fold unincorporated urban areas into their governments. Doing so, he said, will eventually save the county money in government services it currently provides residents in unincorporated King County.

The council is expected to vote on the 2004 budget next Monday.

Beth Silver: 206-467-9845


What's next

Nov. 24: The King County Council is expected to vote on the 2004 budget.

On the Net

The News Tribune's coverage of serial killer Gary Ridgway: www.tribnet.com/ news/projects/gary_ridgway