At a press conference held this morning, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg confirmed the long-suspected murder of Rebecca Marrero by Green River killer Gary Ridgway, and charged Ridgway with a 49th count of first-degree murder.
Morrero's family can "finally have answers," Satterberg said, speaking from a conference room at the King County Courthouse. "With these charges, they will have achieved a degree of justice for Becky Marrero."
Marrero was only 20 when she went missing from a SeaTac motel room on December 3, 1982. Her family assumed she had been killed by the Green River killer, but until today, Ridgeway could not be implicated in her death. Though he had confessed to killing Marrero in the 2003 investigation of the Green River murders, he could not be charged due to a lack of corroborating evidence.
As this case goes forward, Ridgway will likely plead guilty and receive another life sentence without release. "He would be in breach of the original plea agreement if he did not plead guilty," said Satterberg.
On December 21, a group of teenagers discovered a human skull and bones in an Auburn ravine that were identified as Marrero's. "They were within 100 feet of an area that had been thoroughly searched by the Green River task force," said Satterberg. The remains of another Green River victim, Marie Malvar, were found nearby in the original investigation.
Satterberg's interest in gathering information is consistent with Ridgway's original plea agreement, determined by Norm Maleng in 2003. Ridgway was spared the death penalty in exchange for agreeing to plead guilty in all future cases as more victims' remains were discovered. "This agreement was the avenue to the truth," Maleng wrote in his statement on the Ridgway plea.
"There were disappearances that needed to be solved," Satterberg also said of the plea agreement, when questioned today by reporters on why the death penalty wasn't imposed in this case. "We had to weigh seeking the death penalty...with the desire to get the truth. It was a decision about what these families deserved and what our whole community deserved. The truth was more important to us than seeking the death penalty."
At this point, the truth is all that many families of missing women hope for. Marrero is only the latest on a damning list of women murdered by Gary Ridgway. His victims were women on the margins of society, many of them sex workers who, by necessity, lived off the public radar. Their anonymity protected Ridgeway's. This is why it isn't surprising that evidence is still continuing to emerge in this case. Satterberg is absolutely right in stating that the prosecution's charges should be about identifying the victims, not making some emotional leap towards the death penalty.
Today, we know that Ridgway murdered at least 49 women in Washington state. To impose the death penalty would have, in effect, put a stop to new evidence in cases like Marrero's. And it's possible—and even likely—that more evidence against Ridgway is on its way.
"The complete magnitude of Ridgway's crimes is not fully known," Satterberg said. "It's quite possible that more remains will be found someday."
The arraignment and plea are scheduled for next Friday.