Special Reports

Ridgway pleads not guilty

His head held high, Gary Leon Ridgway walked confidently into a Seattle courtroom Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to charges he murdered four of the 49 women on the Green River Killer's list.

Eleven friends and relatives of victims quietly watched Ridgway through protective glass from the first two rows of the small courtroom crowded with reporters.

Some cried as King County deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Baird read their loved ones' names in the documents charging Ridgway with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

"Remember the victims, Opal Mills and Cynthia Hinds," one woman tearfully shouted toward defense attorney Tony Savage as the 10-minute hearing ended.

Ridgway is charged in the deaths of Opal Mills,16; Marcia Chapman, 31; and Cynthia Hinds, 17, whose bodies were found in the Green River in South King County on Aug. 15, 1982; and Carol Ann Christensen, 21, whose body was found May 8, 1983, in the woods near Maple Valley. The four had been strangled.

Ridgway, a 52-year-old father, husband and former truck painter, was dressed Tuesday in worn white jail fatigues with "Ultra Security Inmate" in red letters on the back.

He spoke only once - to answer Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell's question of whether his name was Gary Leon Ridgway.

"Yes, it is," Ridgway said in a clear, loud voice.

Prosecutors say DNA evidence links Ridgway to the deaths of Christensen, Chapman and Mills. They contend circumstantial evidence connects him to Hinds, whose body was found within feet of Chapman's.

Outside the courtroom, Ridgway's lawyers projected the same confidence their client exhibited inside.

"They say he's guilty; let them prove it," said Savage, the high-profile defense attorney hired by Ridgway's family shortly after his arrest. "I don't think they can."

Savage and Mark Prothero, another of the four members of Ridgway's growing defense team, told reporters Ridgway is holding up well and described him as "relatively upbeat."

Prothero said the defense will include an examination of 20 years' worth of evidence sheriff's investigators have compiled.

"Maybe mistakes were made along the way," he said.

The defense also will examine the DNA evidence prosecutors contend links Ridgway to three of the four murders. Prothero said the defense wants to test the 1987 saliva sample sheriff's investigators took from Ridgway.

Savage said he expects it will take at least two years to put the case before a judge.

"We're gonna get this fella a fair trial," he said, "and that means we're going to be prepared. We're going to take as much time as we need."

So far, Ridgway's lawyers have not said whether they will try to move the trial out of King County because of the attention the case has drawn. It's too early to decide whether that will be necessary, Prothero said.

Some of the victims' relatives said Tuesday they were convinced of Ridgway's guilt.

"He doesn't deserve to live," Hinds' aunt, Debra York, tearfully told reporters before the hearing.

Deputies quickly herded the families out of the courtroom after the arraignment. Prosecutors' spokesman Dan Donohoe said most family members didn't want to talk to reporters.

Those present represented families of Hinds, Mills and Christensen, as well as Mary Meehan and Amina Agisheff, two other Green River victims.

Meehan's brother, Tim Meehan, came to the hearing even though Ridgway isn't charged with his sister's death. He wanted to see Ridgway's face.

"I'd like to see him connected," Tim Meehan said.

Prosecutor Norm Maleng has 30 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Ridgway. Defense lawyers expect the decision to be postponed.

The only sentences possible for someone convicted of aggravated first-degree murder are the death penalty or life in prison.

Law enforcement authorities do not say Ridgway is the Green River Killer, though he is a key suspect in the 45 unsolved murders attributed to the killer, who worked from 1982 to 1984.

Staff writers Jason Hagey and Sean Robinson contributed to this report.

Staff writer Karen Hucks covers courts. Reach her at 253-597-8660 or karen.hucks@mail.tribnet.com.