The sister of Gary L. Ridgway’s 49th victim is angry that the notorious Green River killer has been moved to an out-of-state prison where he has more freedom and social contacts. Congressman and former King County sheriff Dave Reichert agrees.
The sister of Gary L. Ridgway’s 49th victim said Monday that she is disgusted with the state Department of Corrections for moving the Green River killer to an out-of-state prison where he will have the opportunity for more freedom and social contacts.
Hosting a news conference at her sister’s gravesite at Riverton Crest Cemetery in Tukwila, Mary Marrero labeled the Department of Corrections (DOC) “dumb” and called Ridgway a “heartless psychopath who took pleasure in strangling women.” She said he doesn’t deserve new opportunities at a Colorado prison.
“Why is the Department of Corrections giving this notorious serial killer special treatment?” she said. “Shame on the Department of Corrections.”
Marrero’s sister, Rebecca “Becky” Marrero, 20, was killed by Ridgway in December 1982, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter. Ridgway admitted to killing Marrero years ago, but her remains weren’t found until December 2010 in an Auburn ravine.
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“This beautiful girl had to grow up without her mother,” said Mary Marrero, referring to her sister’s daughter.
Ridgway’s prison transfer has also drawn sharp criticism from U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, who as a King County sheriff’s detective spent years investigating the Green River killings, as well as King County Sheriff John Urquhart.
“The public should have known this was in the works,” Reichert said at Monday’s news conference. “There’s something wrong in the Department of Corrections. We have a lot of questions.”
Ridgway was transferred in May from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo. Ridgway, who was convicted in 2004, had lived in virtual isolation at the Washington prison, serving life without parole after confessing to dozens of sex slayings over nearly 20 years.
After weeks of silence on the issue, DOC Secretary Bernie Warner said Monday that Ridgway’s transfer simply came down to economics.
“Gary Ridgway presents an ongoing risk in our system. [Ridgway] requires a lot of custody resources. He’s not necessarily a threat to others, but he could be targeted,” Warner said.
When questioned about Ridgway having the opportunity to socialize with other inmates and being allowed greater freedoms in an out-of-state prison, Warner said the move “has nothing to do with privileges.”
Warner said Ridgway had been housed in the Washington penitentiary’s Intensive Management Unit (IMU), which is for inmates who are generally disciplinary problems for corrections staff, or those who have been assaultive, or have been targeted by other inmates. Offenders in the IMU live in solitary cells 23 hours a day.
Living in an IMU is generally temporary, not a place for someone to live for years, Warner said.
DOC records show Ridgway was a model inmate. He cooperated with staff and never broke prison rules, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-records request.
However, the documents indicate that in recent years Ridgway has complained of unspecified mental problems and has been on medication. Warner declined to comment on Ridgway’s mental health.
Warner said that each time Ridgway was out of his cell a security team was assigned to protect him.
“We’re required by the Constitution to offer safety to all inmates in our institutions,” Warner said.
He said that when the opportunity arose to transfer Ridgway out of state in exchange for out-of-state prisoners in need of safe housing, DOC moved to make it happen.
Washington has housed 54 inmates, including Ridgway, in out-of-state prisons. In return, Washington’s DOC is housing 67 out-of-state inmates, Warner said.
The intent of the move to a maximum-security facility in Colorado was to provide Ridgway with an opportunity to live in a prison’s general population, according to the documents.
In Colorado, where Ridgway is less well known, he was to be placed in the general population, where presumably he could mingle with other inmates and have access to a job and other privileges, according to DOC documents and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmate manual for the Florence facility.
Speaking at Monday’s news conference, Reichert said his office has filed a public- disclosure request with DOC to find out why prisons officials believe Ridgway qualified for release from his solitary cell.
While Reichert opposes any perks for Ridgway, he also fears a huge opportunity to push the serial killer for information on unsolved homicides was missed by not giving the Sheriff’s Office a chance to confront him before the transfer. He said they could have presented the transfer as a possible reward if he helped lead authorities to the remains of additional victims.
Ridgway, an Auburn truck painter, was arrested in 2001 based on DNA evidence. He agreed to an unprecedented plea bargain with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, in which he agreed to detail his crimes in exchange for no death penalty. Reichert on Monday called the unusual agreement a “deal with the devil.”
Prosecutors were able to charge Ridgway with 48 murders between 1982 and 1998. In addition, he pleaded guilty in 2011 to killing Becky Marrero, the 49th victim.
By Ridgway’s own count, the actual number of victims is closer to 70.