Mark Prothero said to South Puget Sound Community College students that he was “defending the rights of the constitution, even of the most heinous criminals” when he decided to be the lead defense attorney for Gary Ridgeway, the “Green River Killer.”
Prothero said he can still remember how the hair stood on the back of his neck when Ridgeway sat down with him and said, “I killed ‘em all.”
The Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) club invited Prothero to come speak at the college and sponsored the event. On April 25, 163 students attended Prothero’s presentation.
The club advisor for the CSI club, Professor Warren McLeod, said he got the idea to invite Prothero after seeing his book in the school’s library. He said that bringing Prothero to the college would give students the opportunity to learn more about the study of criminal justice and forensics and to understand what it was like working closely with a serial killer.
Along with giving his presentation “Defending Gary,” Prothero also gave out signed copies of his book “Unraveling the Mind of the Green River Killer” for $20 each.
The CSI club paid $500 to have Prothero speak, but the club and Prothero made an agreement to donate all that money plus proceeds from the event’s book sales to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization which helps the wrongfully convicted get out of jail.
The Innocence Project focuses on DNA evidence to bring out the truth and prevent further wrongful convictions.
The club donation and book sales raised $700 for the organization.
Prothero said wrongful convictions typically happen because of eyewitness misidentification, improper forensics, false confessions, and snitches.
Prothero said that, since 1973, 142 people in 26 states have been released from death row, because new evidence proved their innocence.
He also said that, since 1989, 306 people have been exonerated by DNA testing after they had already served 13.5 years for crimes they did not commit.
Prothero said he has grown up being a strong believer of the United States Constitution Sixth Amendment which gives the accused several rights such as the “right to a speedy trial” and the “right to legal counsel.”
Defense lawyers in general, Prothero said, are “not sticking up for criminals, we’re defending the system.”
Out of 5,000 suspects for the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway was in the top 10.
Starting in the early 1980’s there were 60 detectives assigned to the case of finding the Green River Killer, as 49 victims were attributed to him.
It was not until November 2001 that DNA evidence did Ridgeway in, said Prothero.
The DNA evidence proved Ridgeway had sex with all of the victims. However, Ridgeway kept telling law enforcement that, even though he had sex with those women, he did not kill them.
On April 11, 2003 everything changed when Ridgeway confessed.
Prothero heard about the Green River Killer being caught on the news in 2001, but never thought he would be the one to be defending him. Yet, he said the next thing he knew, his boss told him their firm had taken the case.
Prothero said there were only two attorneys at his firm at the time, including himself, who were official capital-qualified trial attorneys. He was the one with more DNA knowledge, which was needed for the case.
Prothero said of meeting Ridgeway, “He’s less nervous than I am, let’s put it that way.”
As Prothero and his team began to dig through the evidence, he said he felt stuck between a hanging and a lethal injection. Washington State is one of the few U.S. states which use lethal injection and hanging.
Prothero said his team had to work hard to keep up with the Ridgeway’s prosecutors, who had a 20-year head start on the defense, had about 30 more detectives assigned on the case, and had a budget of $27.7 million to investigate and prosecute.
The defense team for Ridgeway had a $6 million budget. Prothero said one example of why they had to spend so much money was because they had to search through about one million pages of hard-copy documents, and quickly.
In 2003, the defense team could not ignore the DNA evidence that Ridgeway was guilty. The best they could do was make a plea to get rid of the death penalty in exchange for a life sentence.
The prosecution agreed to the bargain plea if Ridgeway would cooperate with them and give quality information of where the rest of the victims were.
Ridgeway cooperated with police and was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2003.