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Green River Killer Should Face the Death Penalty
by Allan Bormel
14 November 2003The Law

Gary Leon Ridgway, the Green River Killer, is escaping the death penalty because of a deal he cut with the prosecutor.


Gary Leon Ridgway is the Green River Killer. He is so named because some of his early victims were found in the Green River near Seattle, Washington. He is believed to be the most prolific serial killer in American history, killing 48 women over a 16-year period, many of them prostitutes and runaways. Under Washington State law Ridgway faced the death penalty for his crimes. Instead, the prosecutor chose to make a deal with the killer – life imprisonment in exchange for giving the location of some of the victims’ remains and revealing unknown details about the crimes.

Imagine that Ridgway had killed only one woman – and been caught. Most likely he would be facing life imprisonment. In other words, the next 47 murders were freebies. Congratulations to the Washington justice system for inventing a new legal concept – the freebie murder.

If ever a case cried out for the death penalty this is it. The only justice for the victims, for their families, for the residents of the Seattle area who lived with the knowledge that a serial killer was on the loose for almost 20 years, is death. If this case doesn’t warrant the death penalty then none ever will.

What a message we are sending to murderers and potential murderers. You can rape and kill as many as you want and if caught just withhold information -- dangle a tantalizing morsel -- and a deal is yours. You can take life, but your life will be spared so law enforcement can clear some unsolved cases.

There may be times to make deals with killers. This was not one of them. DNA evidence incontrovertibly linked Ridgway to many of the victims. A deal was not necessary to get a conviction. The prosecutor, King County DA Norm Maleng, sincerely believed he did the right thing; that this agreement brought some measure of peace to additional victims’ families. But he missed the bigger picture.

This plea agreement will have repercussions. From now on every defense attorney handling a murder case in Washington State – and perhaps elsewhere – will claim: “If Gary Ridgway, who killed 48 people, didn’t qualify for the death penalty, then surely my client, who only killed one (or two or ten) doesn’t qualify either,” and it will be a potent argument.

When a minority commits a murder surely his attorney will claim: “If Gary Ridgway – who is white – didn’t get the death sentence for killing 48 people, to give my minority client death for killing only one, would be blatantly racist.”

This is powerful ammunition for death penalty opponents. Undoubtedly, those opposed to capital punishment in any circumstance are rejoicing at this turn of events. They will argue that if the death penalty doesn’t apply here, it doesn’t apply anywhere. Some of the victims’ families are satisfied with this plea bargain, hungry to obtain bits of information about their lost loved ones. However, the vast majority of the victims’ families are deeply disappointed with this deal – furious in fact – that comparative justice for their murdered loved ones has been dealt away.

If Gary Leon Ridgway should escape, why not kill number 49? Or 50? What’s the difference? With the State of Washington so willing to devalue victims’ lives, any additional murders are just more freebies.

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