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Green River killings suspect pleads not guilty

Gary Leon Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway  

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- A man charged with four of the so-called Green River killings pleaded not guilty to the murder charges in a Seattle, Washington, court Tuesday.

"His plea is not guilty to all charges," said attorney Anthony Savage, representing defendant Gary Leon Ridgway.

Wearing a white jail inmate's uniform with "ultra security inmate" written on the back, Ridgway did not speak during the brief hearing in the King County Superior Court, but listened as the charges against him were read aloud by the prosecutor.

A case scheduling hearing was set for January 2.

Ridgway, 52, has been held without bond since his arrest in early December. The truck painter from Auburn, Washington, has been charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the killings.

If Ridgway is convicted it would mark a milestone in one of the largest unsolved serial murder investigations in the United States. Police suspect one person may be responsible for the deaths of 42 women and the disappearance of seven others.

The killings took place between 1982 and 1984. The first bodies were found on the banks of the scenic Green River, south of Seattle.

Prosecutors have a few weeks to decide whether they will seek the death penalty. Prosecutor Norm Maleng has said he will not plea bargain the case.

King County Sheriff Dave Reichert has said DNA evidence from Ridgway links him to at least three women -- Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman and Cynthia Hinds -- whose bodies were found on the banks of the Green River in August 1982.

Attorneys for Ridgway have said they intend to challenge that DNA evidence and keep it out of court.

"You don't have to go any further back than California versus O.J. Simpson to recognize that DNA can be mishandled, can be tainted, can deteriorate," said Savage.

Ridgway is also charged in the death of another woman, Carol Christensen, whose body was found in the same region in 1983, Reichert said. Investigation is continuing in the other 45 cases.

"We have a lot of work to do to investigate these other cases to ensure we have the person who's responsible for those bodies," he said. "We may have some copycats."

Reichert said Ridgway, who is married, had been identified as one of the top five suspects in the case as far back as 1984.

Ridgway was arrested in May 1982 on a charge of soliciting prostitution when he approached a law enforcement decoy in a sting operation. He was arrested again last month on a charge of loitering for the purpose of prostitution, Reichert said. Both charges resulted in guilty findings or guilty pleas, he said.

Ridgway was interviewed by authorities in connection with the Green River murders in 1984 and again in 1987. Since then, authorities conducted an extensive background investigation of him but found no evidence to link him with the crimes.

In the 1987 interview, Ridgway was asked to chew on a piece of gauze, which investigators preserved. That gauze eventually turned up the DNA evidence linking him to some of the victims, Reichert said.

Savage said his client was handling the charges "as well as you could expect."



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