News

'The killing is over'

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Gary Leon Ridgway, 54, pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering 48 women in the early 1980s, admitting he was the Green River Killer who haunted Pacific Highway South, strangled young prostitutes and dumped their bodies in the Green River and wooded areas throughout south King County.

In court Wednesday morning, Ridgway responded with a single, emotionless, “Guilty,” after King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones read the names of each of the 45 known victims and three unidentified women called “Jane Doe B10,” “Jane Doe B16” and “Jane Doe B17.”

Jones said Ridgways’ pleas were made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily, and found him guilty on all counts. Sentencing will be scheduled for some time within the next six months.

King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said Ridgway was remorseless and unemotional during police interviews and in court. In interviews with police, released in new court documents Wednesday, Ridgway told police he lacked caring, and viewed his victims as “garbage.”

Officials confirmed Wednesday that Ridgway spent months working with the Green River Task Force to identify dump sites for several victims whose remains had never been found. His defense lawyers approached police and prosecutors this spring and offered to exchange the information for a plea bargain.

Authorities said Ridgway had an incredible memory for the sites, remembering details like what kind of litter was strewn about and the relationship of the road to fallen logs or piles of brush, though he frequently couldn’t recall what the victims he dumped there looked like.

In a couple instances, Ridgway took police to dump sites of victims police hadn’t told his defense team about, which further proved to prosecutors and the task force he was the suspected Green River Killer.

Ridgway’s years of killing, which he referred to as his “career,” spanned more than the several years during the early 1980s when the task force formed to investigate the murders of the first victims, whose bodies were found in the Green River in 1982.

According to the new documents, Ridgway, a former Federal Way-area resident, might have started killing in the 1970s and continued until 2001, when he was arrested. By his own count, he estimated he’s killed as many as 60 women, according to court records.

As part of his plea bargain, Ridgway has agreed to continue working with investigators to solve lingering murders or missing persons cases.

On the eighth floor of the King County Courthouse in Seattle, a hundred people filed down the hallway toward the courtroom where Ridgway would be brought in, wearing a red jump suit and cuffs, an hour later.

They wore name tags identifying which victim was their daughter, sister, mother or friend. They walked stone-faced toward the courtroom, ignoring reporters’ requests for comment.

Dawn Montoya emerged later from the courtroom, shaken by her first sight of the man who killed her friend, Terry Milligan, a 16-year-old Pacific Highway South prostitute who disappeared Aug. 29, 1982. Milligan’s body was found near Star Lake Road in the Federal Way area in 1984.

“I just can’t believe it,” Montoya said. “I mean, I know he did it, but I just can’t believe a little man so cool and calm could kill all those people.”

Following the hearing Wednesday, King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng said the nightmare is over.

“This is a historic day in King County, one that allows up to close a chapter on the Green River killings,” he said.

Maleng defended his decision to plea-bargain with Ridgway, saying the serial killer’s cooperation in solving scores of cases was conditioned on Maleng not seeking the death penalty against him.

After three weeks of consideration, Maleng agreed to the bargain.

“This case presented another part of justice, to seek and know the truth,” he said.

By finding and naming the killer of all the victims –– not just the seven he was charged with –– their parents, siblings, children and friends could finally hear the truth, dispelling any lingering doubts about the fates of the rest of the Green River victims, Maleng said.

“It could begin a sense of healing in the community,” he said. “Justice would be to uncover the truth. The mercy provided today is not directed toward Gary Ridgway. It’s directed at the families and the community.”

He added that hearing the truth from Ridgway lent a sense of self-worth to the victims, whose value as people was enough that the community should know what happened to them.

“They each had hopes, aspirations and dreams,” he said. “They had moms and dads, sisters and brothers, and some had children. Each one of the victims deserved mercy and justice, and each one deserves to have her fate known to the world.

“Each one of these young women — and I consider some of them children — deserved mercy. Everyone goes through troubled times, and they didn’t deserve to die.”

Maleng said his decision to bargain with Ridgway won’t affect the legal system or its ability to put murderers on death row.

“Each prosecutor has the responsibility to consider the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in each case,” he said. “This case cannot be compared to any other case.”

Reichert said police will continue investigating the missing and murdered women to find any connections to Ridgway. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will be allowed to seek the death penalty for any murder Ridgway lies about committing.

Meanwhile, Reichert said, the community can begin to heal because “the killing is over.”

“We cannot give back the daughters taken by Ridgway. We can’t give back the years of suffering of their families,” he said. “For the families of these victims, the book will never be finished. So we must never forget.”

Now that the killer is off the streets, Reichert said the Green River Task Force will take the next year to re-evaluate what resources will be needed to continue with the second phase of the investigation, which will involve following up on the other unsolved murders and still-missing women.

“Where that leads us, we don’t know,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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