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Murder charges filed in Northwest's Green River killings


SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- A 52-year-old truck company worker was charged with murder Wednesday in Washington state in the deaths of four women blamed on the Green River serial killer.

Four counts of aggravated first-degree murder were filed Wednesday against Gary Leon Ridgway, the King County prosecutor announced.

If Ridgway is convicted it would mark a milestone in one of the largest unsolved serial murder investigations in the country involving 49 women who were either murdered or are missing.

Ridgway, 52, an Auburn truck painter, is to be arraigned December 18 in King County Superior Court.


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The prosecution will have 30 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty. Prosecutor Norm Maleng has said he will not plea bargain the case.

Ridgway was taken into custody Saturday as he left his job at the Kenworth Truck Co in Renton, a suburban city south of Seattle.

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 south of Seattle in August 1982.

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

Ridgway is also suspected in the death of another woman, Carol Christensen, whose body was found in the same region in 1983, he said.

There are 42 unsolved murder cases involving women in western Washington since then. Another seven women missing since then are suspected to be victims of the killer.

"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," Reichert 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 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.

Reichert has proposed a regional task force to investigate all 49 deaths, plus more than 40 unsolved deaths of women in the region. The arrest has also prompted investigators in San Diego, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to review files on scores of slain women for possible links.



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