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Green River suspect pleads not guilty

Gary Leon Ridgway pleaded innocent this week to charges he murdered four women nearly two decades ago in the Green River serial killings.

Ridgway’s attorney, Tony Savage, entered the pleas during a brief arraignment in King County Superior Court.

Ridgway, 52, of Auburn West Hill, did not speak to Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell during the 10-minute appearance.

He is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Marcia Chapman, Cynthia Hinds, Opal Mills and Carol Christensen. His next court appearance was set for Jan. 2 for lawyers to work out the schedule for the proceedings.

Federal Way police have touted Ridgeway’s arrest as a significant breakthrough for local law enforcement.

The Green River case covers at least 49 women who were killed between 1982 and 1984. The first victims were found in or near the Green River in Kent.

In Federal Way, six women’s remains were found along Star Lake Road from 1983 to 1985.

The remains of Debra L. Estes — 15 years old when she disappeared in 1982 — also were found in 1988 near the intersection of South 348th Street and First Avenue Southwest.

Between 1983 and 1986, the remains of three more suspected victims were found near Mountain View Cemetery, about 20 blocks northeast of Ridgway’s present home.

Preparing for death penalty trial

Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek the death penalty, but Ridgway’s lawyers say they’re preparing for a capital case.

“Any experienced defense attorney who receives an aggravated murder case begins their work with the presumption that prosecutors will seek the death penalty, even if it’s just one body,” said Mark Prothero, a public defender on Ridgway’s defense team.

Ridgway was arrested Nov. 30, as he left his job at Kenworth Truck Co. in Renton, where he had worked as a truck painter since 1969.

Results from recent DNA tests linked him to three of the victims, and other circumstantial evidence linked him to a fourth, investigators said.

He is being held without bail at the King County Jail.

Savage predicted it will take at least two years to prepare for trial.

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

Costs keep rising

On Dec. 17, Ridgway’s defense team was granted nearly $300,000 by a judge for independent DNA testing and analysis.

King County Superior Court Judge Brian D. Gain also approved a defense request to assign three more lawyers to Ridgway’s team. They include the public defenders who initially were assigned, Prothero and Todd Gruenhagen. One more will be chosen later, and a fourth could be assigned if prosecutors seek the death penalty.

Savage, Ridgway’s lead attorney, was hired by Ridgway’s family.

The additional attorneys, plus two defense team investigators and two paralegals also approved by Gain, will be publicly funded.

Ridgway has signed over all that he owns to contribute toward the defense, Savage said, adding that he cut his fees from his usual $200 an hour to $75 an hour, the same as if he had been appointed by the court.

The latest costs boost the public expense for defending Ridgway to a record $950,000 a year before the case goes to trial, said Jim Crane, administrator for the county’s Office of Public Defense.

County officials estimate the total cost of the Ridgway case at $8 million to $12 million, including further investigation and prosecution.

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