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County says yes to trial funding

The King County Council has agreed to an additional $4.1 million to pay for the investigation of the Green River murders and for the prosecution of Gary Leon Ridgway, though council members said they will review each new request for money in the interest of taxpayers.

Ridgway is charged with four counts of aggravated murder in connection with the deaths of four women thought to be victims of the Green River killer. He’s being held without bail in the King County Jail.

The $4.1 million is $1.2 million less than initially requested by the county agencies involved — the prosecuting attorney, the sheriff and the Office of Public Defense — and it comes with a stipulation: the agencies must provide quarterly progress reports to the county council.

The Green River investigation cost King County about $11 million from 1984, when the investigations began, to 2001.

Continuing investigation into the killings is expected to cost an additional $10 million over the next two years.

Inflation accounts for part of the cost increase, as does a rise in the cost of gathering and processing evidence.

The county will receive about $500,000 from the federal government to help offset the cost of processing evidence, but new developments in DNA testing means more evidence could be material. Investigators now will have to spend more time gathering evidence and running tests.

Ridgway’s trial in connection with the investigation also drives up the cost.

Though Ridgway is paying for his own defense, county officials anticipate the state eventually will have to pick up the tab.

The prosecuting attorney, the sheriff and the public defender’s office initially requested a total of $5.3 million for the Green River investigation and Ridgway’s prosecution, but they whittled it down to $4.1 million.

Still, the county had to cobble together a funding package until next year’s budget planning can provide for more stable funding.

About $1.2 million of the $4.1 million approved by the county will come from a voter-approved Automated Fingerprint Identification System levy. Property taxes are expected to go up when the county begins collecting the total amount of the levy.

The county will use $1.5 million from a contingency fund and will delay several minor capital projects to gather the rest of the $4.1 million.

The sheriff’s office cut its initial request of $2.6 million to $2.1 million by reducing the number of new hires to work on the Green River investigation from 18.5 to 11 new hires and five temporary employees.

The prosecutor’s office is dedicating $1 million to an evidence database Ridgway’s defense team and the prosecution will share. Another $215,000 will cover the cost of the prosecution this year.

Rather than hiring three new people to work on the case, the prosecutor’s office will keep two prosecuting attorneys and a paralegal who were slated for layoffs as part of the county’s budget cuts.

The public defender’s office cut its initial request from $1.4 million to about $760,000, though it’s expected to request more later.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com.

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