SEATTLE — The decision to let Gary Ridgway avoid a possible death sentence by pleading guilty to 48 Green River serial killings could save King County as much as $10 million in court and investigative costs, county officials say.
Investigators continue to question Ridgway and search for more victims, and the ongoing cost could cut into some of the savings, said Beth Goldberg, King County budget supervisor.
In a letter last week to the King County Council, Executive Ron Sims proposed putting $6 million earmarked for the scheduled 2004 trial into a reserve account. The account already holds $4 million for investigative costs associated with the Ridgway case.
The county has had to pay for the investigation and prosecution in the case, as well as for most of Ridgway’s defense. The county has spent $10.9 million on the case since Ridgway was arrested in November 2001.
Ridgway will be sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 48 deaths.
In 2002, the county spent $5.7 million on Ridgway’s case, compared with $3.4 million on 17 other aggravated murder cases that year, Goldberg said.
"The size of this case is unlike any we’ve certainly seen in Washington state history and now the largest serial case in the nation, so yeah, the magnitude is huge," Goldberg said.
Sims said the savings could help offset an expected $22 million deficit in 2005 and an $18 million deficit in 2006 in the county’s criminal services budget.
Sims also said the Ridgway savings could be set aside for an annexation proposal. Sims wants to spend at least $10 million to encourage cities to quickly fold unincorporated urban areas into their governments. Doing so, he said, will eventually save the county money in government services it currently provides residents in unincorporated King County.
The council is expected to vote on the 2004 budget next Monday.
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