Higher court upholds conviction in 1995 murder of single mom

EVERETT — Danny Giles is one step closer to serving what could amount to a life sentence for the stabbing death of Patti Berry, a single mom who disappeared after work in 1995.

The state Court of Appeals on Monday notified lawyers that it was upholding Giles’ 2014 first-degree murder conviction and denying his bid for a new trial.

Giles had argued that he was deprived of his right to present a defense because Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss didn’t allow jurors to hear about other possible suspects. The defense said that investigators zeroed in on Giles prematurely.

As part of his appeal, Giles said his lawyers should have been permitted to present evidence about three other men, including a former Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy; the former owner of nude nightclubs, including Honey’s, where Berry had worked as a dancer; and a customer at the club. The defense argued that these men were viable suspects.

Weiss held hearings over the course of five days about the admissibility of these other men, but ultimately concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence tying them to Berry’s murder. In some instances, the connection between the men and Berry lacked relevance to the crime.

In the case of the former deputy, the court found that the defense was offering up evidence that required “the pyramiding of speculation upon inferences.”

The state Court of Appeals concluded that Weiss didn’t abuse his discretion in his pre-trial rulings.

“As to all three of the trial court’s determinations, its reasoning was sound,” the appellate judges wrote in a 25-page opinion.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson called the court’s decision a relief. Prosecutors have been waiting to hear from the court for months. Oral arguments were presented in July, said Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Kathy Webber, who handled the appeal.

Giles has a month to ask the state Supreme Court to review his case.

Matheson said it’s good to know that Giles, 48, isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Giles, a serial sex offender, was sentenced to nearly 48 years in prison for Berry’s murder. Weiss in 2014 called the killing “a brutal, savage, unprovoked attack on a defenseless mother.”

Berry, 26, was stabbed multiple times in the throat and face, an ambush that may have started as she put air in a leaky tire. Her car was found the next day at a nearby car wash. Children discovered Berry’s body several days later in a wooded area near the Everett Mall.

It took nearly two decades to bring Giles to trial.

Snohomish County sheriff’s detective Jim Scharf jump-started the stalled investigation when he submitted the steering wheel of Berry’s car for DNA testing. It had been removed and preserved during the initial investigation.

In 2004, forensic testing that wasn’t available in 1995, found a mix of DNA from Berry and a man on the steering wheel. Four years later that male DNA was matched to Giles. The odds of a random match were calculated at 1 in 580 million.

The case against Giles grew stronger in 2011 when he told a series of lies to Scharf and another detective. He tried to distance himself from places connected to Berry’s killing. Detectives were able to refute parts of his story.

Later additional testing turned up DNA consistent with his profile on the cuffs of the jeans Berry was wearing when she was killed, and on the driver’s seat headrest from her car.

Investigators also claimed that his DNA was found on the exterior of a car belonging to Tracey Brazzel. The 22-year-old hairdresser dropped from sight a couple of months before Berry was killed. Brazzel is presumed dead. Her body has never been recovered.

Weiss wouldn’t allow the two homicides to be tried together. Prosecutors earlier this year dropped the murder charge against Giles for Brazzel’s death. The state Court of Appeals decision won’t change the status of that case, Matheson said.

“We need some other evidence,” he said. “If we could give her family her remains, we’d be willing to give up a lot.”

Scharf, one of two detectives with the sheriff’s cold case team, also was relieved that years of work held up to the higher court’s scrutiny.

“It shows the prosecutors, judge and even the defense did a good job in handling the entire trial,” he said. “It was clear to law enforcement Danny Giles was the person who killed Patti Berry and Tracey Brazzel in the summer of 1995.”

“We’re not going to rest until we get Tracey’s case resolved, too,” he added.

Berry’s mom, Nancy Stensrud, and other families were instrumental in getting the sheriff’s office to create a cold case team. They didn’t want detectives to give up on justice. Stensrud got word of the court’s opinion Monday afternoon.

“I feel real good about it,” she said. “I had no doubt in my mind that it would turn out the way it was supposed to.”

Giles, she said, is where he should be.

“I’m just waiting for the day when they finally say it’s all a done deal,” Stensrud said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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