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Green River Killer Sentenced to Life

December 18, 2003 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) _ Gary Ridgway, who admitted murdering 48 women in the Seattle area, so many he couldn’t remember where he left all the bodies, tearfully apologized to their families Thursday for ``killing all those young ladies″ as a judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Ridgway, 54, bowed his head during 48 seconds of silence the judge ordered for the victims. The 48 convictions were the most for any serial killer in U.S. history.

``I’m sorry for the scare I put into the community,″ Ridgway said. ``I have tried for a long time to keep from killing any ladies.″

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Throughout the day, relatives of the victims poured out decades of pain, anger and loss as they confronted Ridgway from the witness stand.

``Jesus knows you have broken my heart,″ a sobbing Joan Mackie, mother of victim Cindy Smith, told Ridgway as he faced her and listened silently.

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones blistered Ridgway for his lack of compassion for the horror he brought to his victims, their families and the community. He imposed 48 consecutive life sentences one at a time and ordered Ridgway to pay $480,000 in fines, $10,000 for each victim.

``The time has come for the final chapter of your reign of terror in our community,″ Jones said. ``It is now time for our community to have peace from the Green River murders.″

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to spare Ridgway the death penalty in exchange for his help in finding four previously undiscovered sets of remains and confessing to the murders, the most recent in 1998. On Nov. 5 he pleaded guilty to murdering 48 girls and women, many of whom were prostitutes or runaways.

The first victims turned up in 1982 in the Green River, giving the then-unknown attacker the name Green River Killer. By the end of 1984, 42 were dead.

Most of the relatives sobbed, some shook with anger as they tried to describe the inexpressible grief of having a mother, daughter or sister die at his hands.

``It was not your right to decide who lived and who died,″ said Tim Meehan, the brother of Mary Meehan, whose body was found in 1983. ``Mary was no less a human being than your mother or your son, or as trash as you have classified all the victims.

``It’s garbage like you, not these victims that you took their lives, that doesn’t deserve to live on,″ Meehan said. ``I can only hope that someday someone gets the opportunity to choke you unconscious 48 times so you can live through the horror that you put our mothers and our daughters through.″

As each family member spoke of their sadness and rage, Ridgway maintained a blank stare, though he sometimes nodded at their comments and a few times, dabbed away a tear that slipped out beneath his dark-rimmed glasses.

Later, he told the court, ``I’m sorry for killing all those young ladies.″

``I’m very sorry for the ladies that were not found,″ Ridgway said. ``May they rest in peace. They need a better place than where I gave them. I’m sorry for killing these ladies. They had their whole lives ahead of them. I’m sorry for causing so much pain to so many families.″

Kathy Mills, the mother of victim Opal Mills, 16, whose body was found Aug. 15, 1982, was able to offer Ridgway her forgiveness.

``We wanted to see you die, but it’s all going to be over now,″ said Kathy Mills, ``Gary Leon Ridgway, I forgive you. I forgive you. You can’t hold me anymore. I’m through with you. I have a peace that is beyond human understanding.″

In his confession, Ridgway said he killed because he hated prostitutes and didn’t want to pay them for sex and that he killed so many women he had a hard time keeping them straight.

J. Norman, the mother of Shawnda Leea Summers, whose body was found in 1983, said prosecutors should not have bargained with the death penalty to get Ridgway’s guilty plea.

``The politicians, if they cared about this heinous crime, it would have been solved 20 years ago,″ Norman said. ``There shouldn’t have been no plea bargain. ... Shame on Seattle.″

As he entered the courthouse Thursday, King County Sheriff Dave Reichert, one of the first detectives to investigate the killings, said he wouldn’t put much credence in any remorse Ridgway might show.

``He’s a psychopath and a pathological liar,″ he said.

Ridgway, a longtime painter at a truck company and father of one child, had been a suspect since 1984, when Marie Malvar’s boyfriend reported seeing her get into a pickup truck identified as Ridgway’s. Ridgway told police then that he didn’t know Malvar, and a police investigator who knew him cleared him as a suspect.

Ridgway was arrested Nov. 30, 2001, after detectives linked his DNA to sperm found in three of the earliest victims. By spring 2002, prosecutors had charged him with seven murders, but they had all but given up hope of linking him to the dozens of other women.

Last spring, defense attorneys offered King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng a deal: If prosecutors would not seek the death penalty, Ridgway would help solve those other cases. Though Maleng had previously said he would not bargain with the death penalty, he changed his mind, saying that a strong principle of justice is to know the truth.