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Death sentence upheld in triple murder
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
A divided Washington State Supreme Court has upheld a death-penalty sentence for a man who killed his wife and two of her daughters in Snoqualmie, denying arguments that he should be spared because Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River killer, was not sentenced to death.
The death penalty for Dayva Cross was upheld Thursday in a 5-4 vote.
"Washington's death penalty is constitutional, and nothing about Gary Ridgway changes that. It may be that there will always be aberrations like Ridgway," the court noted in an opinion authored by Justice Tom Chambers.
Cross, who had a history of mental illness, stabbed his wife and two of her daughters, 18 and 15, to death in March 1999. Cross then kept another daughter confined at knifepoint for five hours while he drank wine and watched television. He finally was arrested without incident after the surviving girl escaped and called police.
Cross originally pleaded not guilty to the crimes, then went against his attorney's advice and entered what is known as an Alford plea, meaning he did not accept responsibility for the deaths but thought he would be convicted in a trial. A sentencing jury later found "beyond a reasonable doubt that mercy was not warranted," the court noted. In June 2001, Cross was sentenced to death.
Cross appealed, challenging the state's death penalty as unconstitutional and pointing specifically to Ridgway, who in 2004 pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison in a deal that helped prosecutors close several of his unsolved murders.
The majority of justices said Cross' sentence could not be judged only in comparison with that of Ridgway.
"We do not agree with those who say that no rational explanation exists for Gary Ridgway escaping a death penalty and Dayva Cross not," the court ruled. "We do not minimize the importance of this moral question. But it is a question best left to the people and to their elected representatives in the Legislature. ... "
Dissenting justices had other views. "When Gary Ridgway, the worst mass murderer in this state's history, escapes the death penalty, serious flaws become apparent," wrote Justice Charles W. Johnson.
"The death penalty is like lightning, randomly striking some defendants and not others," the dissenters added.
"The court recognized that each aggravated-murder case is unique and that the disposition in any other single case should not invalidate the entire death-penalty statute," Maleng said.
Death-penalty opponents also found encouragement in the ruling, however.
"In my opinion, it's a step in the direction of abolishing the death penalty," said Mark Larranaga, former director of the Washington Death Penalty Assistance Center who is now in private practice. Larranaga noted that four justices voted against keeping the death sentence.
"That's historic," he said, explaining that it was the court's first instance of such a split vote on capital punishment in the 25 years since the state's present death-penalty statute was adopted in 1981.
"After 25 years, the experiment has failed," he said.
"I don't think you've heard the last of it on this case, and we definitely haven't heard the last of it in other cases."
At the core of the Ridgway comparison argument is the legal concept of "proportionality."
The law holds that for people in Washington to be executed, their crimes should be comparable to other crimes that resulted in execution — and worse than crimes that did not. The state Supreme Court reviews every case in which the death penalty is given, in part to determine whether the proportionality standard is met.
Death-penalty opponents are critical of the court because it has never overturned a death sentence on the basis of proportionality, but has ruled generally that death-penalty decisions should rest largely with elected county prosecutors and citizen juries.
Concurring with Chambers' majority opinion were Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, Justices Bobbe Bridge and Mary Fairhurst, and former Justice Faith Ireland.
Ireland took part in the decision because she was on the court when the case originally was argued in 2004. She has since retired; her seat is now held by Justice James Johnson, who did not participate in Thursday's ruling.
Dissenting were Justices Richard Sanders, Barbara Madsen, Charles Johnson and Susan Owens.
Cross, 46, was convicted on three counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of his wife, Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and her daughters, Salome Holly, 18, and Amanda Baldwin, 15.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for Maleng, said prosecutors expect Cross to further appeal his death sentence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company