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'Green River Killer' sentenced to life in prison

Judge tells Ridgway he hopes victims will haunt his dreams

Gary Leon Ridgway is sentenced.
Gary Leon Ridgway is sentenced.

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Gary Leon Ridgway, the Green River Killer, is condemned and forgiven by his victims' families
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CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on Gary Leon Ridgway's 48 guilty pleas in the Green River killings.
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Crime, Law and Justice
Seattle (Washington)
Washington

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Saying the time has come for "your reign of terror" to be punished, a judge sentenced Gary Leon Ridgway -- the most prolific serial murderer in U.S. history -- to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday.

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones told Ridgway he hoped the 48 women he killed would show up in his dreams and haunt him while he sits in prison.

He called the 54-year-old former truck painter a man with "Teflon-coated emotions" who had been driven only by a "demented, calculating, lustful passion of being the emissary of death."

Jones began his speech from the bench with a 48-second moment of silence to honor each victim.

"As you spend the balance of your life in that tiny cell, surrounded only by your thoughts, please know the women you killed were not throwaways -- pieces of candy in a dish placed upon this planet for the sole purpose of satisfying the murderer's desires," the judge said.

"While you could not face them as you took their lives, if you have a drop of emotion anywhere in your existence, you will face those women in your dreams and private thoughts of your grisly deeds. And, sir, if you have that drop of emotion, you will be haunted for the balance of your life."

Moments earlier, Ridgway fought back tears and sniffled as he told the court, "I'm sorry for causing so much pain for so many people."

Of his victims who were never found, Ridgway said, "May they rest in peace. They need a better place than where I gave them."

Afterward, the mustachioed killer with horn-rimmed glasses, dressed in a white prison suit with a maroon, long-sleeve shirt beneath it, used a tissue to wipe his eyes and nose.

But he showed little emotion as Jones sentenced him to 48 life terms and fined him $10,000 for each victim.

'You're a coward'

The court was crowded with relatives of Ridgway's victims who testified during the sentencing hearing.

"I truly think that you're a coward," said Sarah King, whose mother's body was discovered when she was 5.

"You have useless excuses for what you've done and no remorse," King said at the hearing. "You're going to wake up every day alone, and then one day you'll miss the life that you had, because it's over now."

"Shame on you, Gary Ridgway. May God have mercy on your pathetic soul," said Virginia Graham, whose sister, Debra Estes, was one of Ridgway's victims. "I'm content to know that your hell is constant and never-ending through eternity."

But Kathy Mills, whose 16-year-old daughter Opal was among Ridgway's first victims and found in 1982 on the banks of the Green River, forgave Ridgway.

"Even if you may say you're sorry, Mr. Ridgway, it won't bring back Opal," Mills told the court. "You've held us in bondage for all these years because we have hated you. We've wanted to see you die. But [it] is all going to be over now, and that is providing we can forgive you.

"Gary Leon Ridgway, I forgive you, I forgive you," Mills continued. "You can't hold me anymore, I'm through with you. ... If this event today does not break your evil spirit, I don't know what would."

'Dreams, hopes, aspirations'

Jones said each victim should be remembered as an individual.

"For the past 20 years, each of the young women who has died has been grouped, labeled and characterized as if the circumstances of their deaths was representative of their entire existence," Jones said.

"I ask every family member, friend and every member of our community to eliminate such stigmas. I ask that you remember those 48 young women as people who had unexplored dreams, hopes, aspirations and families that loved them deeply."

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones set aside 48 seconds of silence to remember the victims.
King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones set aside 48 seconds of silence to remember the victims.

Ridgway pleaded guilty November 5 to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder and offered to help investigators find the undiscovered remains of his victims. The bodies of four women Ridgway admitted killing have yet to be found.

In exchange for the confession, prosecutors agreed to not to seek the death penalty.

The case takes its name from a river south of Seattle, where Ridgway began dumping his victims in 1982. Most of the women were prostitutes, whom he said he targeted "because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted without getting caught."

In his confession, Ridgway said he killed because he hated prostitutes and didn't want to pay them for sex; that he dumped their bodies in the Green River and other inconspicuous parts of King County; and that he killed so many women he had a hard time keeping them straight. (Full story)

Ridgway was arrested November 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, most of whom disappeared during a terrifying stretch from 1982-84.

Washington state Department of Corrections officials said Ridgway will likely end up in a facility that will offer few cellmates, or separate him from other inmates altogether.


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