By Scott North Herald Writer
EVERETT — More legal sparring is expected this week as attorneys gear up for a pair of trials focusing on whether a Snohomish County man is responsible for two 1995 “cold-case” killings.
Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss has spent much of the summer deciding legal questions raised by the first-degree murder charges brought in 2012 against Danny Ross Giles.
Both sides already have logged significant victories.
Weiss on Aug. 6 agreed with Giles’ attorneys that it would be prejudicial for him to face a single trial on both charges, which focus on what happened to two young women south of Everett 19 years ago.
Prosecutors had hoped to try Giles on both counts at the same time. Instead, Giles late this month is scheduled to go on trail for allegedly killing Patti Berry. A separate trial, in front of a different jury, has been scheduled in mid November. It will focus on Giles’ alleged role in the disappearance and presumed death of Tracey Brazzel.
Giles has been locked up at the county jail in Everett since November 2012. His bail has been set at $4 million.
Trying the Berry case first makes sense, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said. “It is the more conventional homicide. We have a body. We have a crime scene,” he said.
In pretrial hearings last month the judge ruled as prosecutors urged, finding that unless Giles’ attorneys can show more evidence than they have so far, they won’t be allowed to suggest that others may be responsible for Berry’s death. The defense’s alternate suspects are, for the most part, people detectives investigated over the years but ruled out for various reasons: a former nude nightclub owner; a nightclub customer who behaved suspiciously; a former deputy who was fired after a string of internal investigations for troubling behaviors with women he encountered on the job.
Weiss last week also ruled that detectives acted appropriately in 2011 when they visited Giles in prison, confronted him with their suspicions and test results, and tried to get a confession.
Giles denied involvement in Berry’s killing but made several statements that prosecutors contend show he was trying to deceive investigators about his familiarity with the locations where her body was found and her blood-spattered car abandoned.
At one August hearing, Giles testified he was intimidated by the detectives but unable to admit that, or refuse to meet with them, because of the realities of life behind bars. Giles has been cycling in and out of prison since 1987, when he was convicted of rape for attacking a woman while she was using a Lynnwood tanning bed.
Weiss said he didn’t find Giles’ testimony credible. He noted transcripts from the interviews. They quote Giles saying that he didn’t feel pressured to talk and that he understood he was free to return to his cell at any time.
The judge Thursday is scheduled to wrestle with whether statements Giles made about Brazzel can be used at his trial in that case.
The issue Weiss must decide — whether there is sufficient proof to demonstrate that Brazzel is the victim of a crime — highlights just how different the cases are.
Berry, 26, worked as a dancer at Honey’s, a nude nightclub that used to be along Highway 99 north of Lynnwood. She encountered her killer on July 31, 1995, after heading home from work. Her body was found a few days later, repeatedly stabbed and dumped in the woods south of the Everett Mall.
Brazzel disappeared May 27, 1995. The hairstylist, 22, was last seen at a pub south of Everett along Highway 99, according to police. She reportedly spent part of the evening selling drugs. Brazzel’s body has never been found.
Giles was not a suspect in either case until 2008. His DNA profile was added to a forensic database after he went to prison for a felony indecent exposure in 2005. Genetic tests reportedly yielded a match, first on the steering wheel of Berry’s car and later on a spot that had been collected from the exterior of Brazzel’s vehicle. 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 told detectives he had nothing to do with Brazzel’s disappearance. He also reportedly wrote a jailhouse letter that prosecutors say contains descriptions of Giles being in Brazzel’s apartment and car, supposedly to purchase drugs. At the time the letter was intercepted, Giles apparently was rattled by detectives’ claims that they had substantial evidence connecting him to the young woman and her home.
Neal Friedman, one of two public defenders representing Giles, has argued that his client’s statements about Brazzel can’t be used at his trial, citing case law that requires independent proof a crime has been committed beyond the defendant’s statements.
“The state has no independent evidence of whether Brazzel is dead and if so, where she died or how she died,” Friedman said in court papers. “Without any evidence, there is no independent evidence of a murder, rendering any statement on this case as a violation of the corpus delicti rule. While Giles did not ‘confess,’ the State is going to use his statements to support their contention that he killed Brazzel.”