Judge affirms murder charge in 1995 disappearance

EVERETT — Sufficient evidence exists to believe a crime is behind the disappearance of a Snohomish County woman 19 years ago, and a key clue is that her body has never been found, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Bruce Weiss declined to side with attorneys for Danny Ross Giles, who had argued that evidence in a first-degree murder charge over the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel is simply too weak for a courtroom.

Brazzel was a 22-year-old hairstylist living south of Everett when she dropped from sight in May 1995. No trace of her has been found, despite searches by detectives and her family.

Giles was charged with killing Brazzel after recent genetic tests showed that a blood-like spot found on the exterior of her car years ago contained the longtime convict’s DNA. Giles also is charged with the July 1995 stabbing murder of Patti Berry after DNA matching his profile reportedly was found on the steering wheel of her blood-spattered car.

He is scheduled to go on trial later this month in the Berry case. A separate trial on the Brazzel charge is scheduled for November.

As part of the pre-trial sparring, defense attorneys argued that Brazzel’s absence and the spot on the car are not enough evidence of a crime to allow prosecutors to use statements Giles made to detectives after being confronted with their suspicions.

Neal Friedman, the county’s longest-serving public defender, cited case law related to the corpus delicti rule, which requires prosecutors to present independent proof a crime has been committed beyond the defendant’s potentially incriminating words.

Giles denied having anything to do with Brazzel’s disappearance, but he also wrote a jailhouse letter that prosecutors allege contains descriptions of Giles being in Brazzel’s apartment and car, supposedly to purchase drugs. He reportedly wrote the letter shortly after detectives tricked him into thinking there was substantial physical evidence tying him to Brazzel.

The defense was trying to get Weiss to dismiss the Brazzel case in part by oversimplifying and ignoring evidence, deputy prosecutor Bob Langbehn said.

There is no indication that Brazzel willingly disappeared in 1995, and if she had fallen victim to accident or ended her life, there likely would have been witnesses or her body would have been found, Langbehn said.

In other words, the absence of a body is one indication that Brazzel was killed, he said.

Weiss agreed that prosecutors can reasonably infer that Brazzel met with foul play. He declined to grant the defense motion.

Giles, 46, has been in and out of prison since being convicted of a 1987 Lynnwood rape. His DNA profile was added to a forensic database after he went to prison for felony indecent exposure in 2005.

Snohomish County sheriff’s “cold-case” detectives submitted evidence from the Berry and Brazzel cases for genetic testing, starting in 2008. The state crime lab has calculated the statistical probability of a random DNA match to Giles in the Berry case at 1 in 580 million, and 1 in 56 quadrillion in the Brazzel case, according to court papers.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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