OLYMPIA, Wash. - Some Republican lawmakers claim serial killer Gary Ridgway — the Green River Killer — could be released from prison if a bill passes that would eliminate life without parole.
Senate Bill 5036 passed the Washington State Senate without holding public hearing, and is now before the House of Representatives.
Washington eliminated the death penalty in 2018 with the argument that you can sentence someone like Gary Ridgway to life in prison without parole. For the second year in a row, Senate Democrats want to change that.
Ridgway admitted killing 49 people, and one of them was 15-year-old Debra Estes, sister of state representative Jenny Graham.
"I did have a four-hour conversation with him, and he did say if he got out he would do this again," Graham told FOX 13 News on Tuesday.
Ridgway accepted a plea to serve life in prison without parole to avoid the death penalty. SB 5036 includes a provision that says prisoners who've served a term of 25 years can ask the Clemency and Pardons Board to commute their sentence, therefore eliminating 'life without parole.'
"This is absolutely, again, a slap in the face to the crime victims, Washington’s daughters, they don't deserve this," said Graham.
If adopted, Ridgway will have completed his 25th year in prison in 2028 and would be eligible.
Jenny Graham is not only the sister of a Ridgway victim, she’s also a state Republican representing from Spokane, and blames Democrats for writing a bill that treats serial killers, like Ridgway, like any other prisoner.
"The fact that there is no carve-out for somebody like a Gary Ridgway—that stalked and murdered 50 people, most of them children, and he did it because he enjoyed it—is wrong," said Graham.
SB 5036 passed the Senate in 2021 with the same democratic sponsor, Senator Manka Dhingra of Redmond.
"The criminal justice system sees people at their worst moment in life, and the criminal justice system has not been doing a very good job at understanding that people change, that rehabilitation works," Dhingra said during a Senate hearing last year.
When asked to justify this year’s version, Democratic Caucus Floor Leader Senator Joe Nguyen of West Seattle said he did not know how the bill will affect Ridgway’s sentence.
"There are other individuals, where we believe that would be safe to have them in our community again, given they've served time," Nguyen said. "But also, candidly, a lot of them are at an age point where they are less likely to be a risk to our community."
Even if the clemency board approves commuted sentences for people like Gary Ridgway, and others convicted of lesser crimes, the governor will still have the final say-so if they are released from prison.
Graham asks where would they go—"Who wants Gary Ridgway living next to them? Seriously, who does?"
Kenneth Fockele, a representative of Senator Manka Dhingra contacted us after our story aired with this statement:
"The passage of SB 5036 would not allow Gary Ridgway to petition for conditional commutation. His sentencing agreement stipulates that he will not petition the clemency and pardons board or any successor to it."
We verified that Ridgway did include a "Waiver of Right to Petition for Clemency" in his plea deal for life without parole instead of facing the death penalty.
It doesn’t change the point of the story that anyone, regardless of the convictions, can ask the Clemency Board to commute their sentence at the 25-year mark of their incarceration.
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