EVERETT — A judge made clear Wednesday he questions whether prosecutors have enough evidence to properly stage a single trial for a convicted rapist accused of two 1995 “cold-case” killings.
Attorneys for Danny Ross Giles say Snohomish County prosecutors are trying to buttress two weak cases by playing to emotion and presenting them as a matched set. It would be “catastrophic prejudice” for a single jury to decide whether sufficient evidence connects Giles to Patti Berry’s killing and the separate disappearance and presumed death of Tracey Brazzel, public defender Neal Friedman said.
Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss told prosecutors to return to court Thursday morning ready to answer some tough questions.
Based on what he heard during Wednesday’s hearing, the judge said, he wonders whether sufficient evidence — not just theories — show that what happened to Berry and Brazzel are part of the same criminal conduct. That standard must be met for a single trial.
“I have some concerns,” the judge said.
Weiss made his observation as deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson was just beginning to address the defense challenge.
It is true that no eyewitnesses connect Giles to either woman, Matheson told the judge.
“We’ve got better evidence than that. We’ve got DNA,” he said.
Brazzel, 22, was a hair stylist. She disappeared May 27, 1995, after a night that included reported drug trafficking at a pub south of Everett along Highway 99. Berry, 26, had worked as a dancer at Honey’s, a nude nightclub that used to be along Highway 99 north of Lynnwood. She went missing after working a shift on July 31, 1995.
Berry was repeatedly stabbed and her body found dumped in south Everett. No trace of Brazzel has surfaced.
Giles, 46, was not a suspect in either the Berry or Brazzel cases. That changed in 2008.
Using tests that weren’t available in 1995, genetic evidence gathered 19 years ago allegedly was linked to Giles. It was found on the steering wheel of Berry’s blood-spattered car and from a spot on the exterior of Brazzel’s vehicle.
Forensic experts at the state crime lab 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.
Giles was in prison when the tests were conducted. His criminal record includes the 1987 rape of a woman attacked while she was using a Lynnwood tanning bed, plus a string of other crimes against women and girls.
He was out of prison and living south of Everett in 1995. Confronted with the test results in 2011, Giles denied involvement.
Prosecutors in 2012 charged Giles with two counts of first-degree murder, one each for Berry and Brazzel.
Lawyers on both sides of the case expected a fight over whether the charges should remain connected. They each filed dozens of pages of pleadings prior to Wednesday’s hearing.
Matheson said Giles should go to trial on both charges at the same time because the evidence meets the legal standard. Both women were young, had similar lifestyles, similar looks, and encountered their killer in the same area of the county, at about the same time of day, within two months of each other, he wrote.
Further, detectives believe whoever is responsible used the victims’ cars to transport their bodies to nearby hiding places, and then kept the car keys, perhaps as trophies, the prosecutor wrote.
On Wednesday, Weiss said that some of what prosecutors see as connections — the explanation for the missing car keys, for example — appear to be based on theories. He wants to see supporting evidence.
Friedman told Weiss there are more differences than similarities in the two cases. For example, while it is clear that somebody killed Berry, no evidence demonstrates that Brazzel met with violence, he said.
“They still don’t know what happened to her because there is no crime scene,” Friedman said.
Giles trial is scheduled to begin in late September.