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Originally published Tuesday, May 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Ridgway's ex-wife wants to be dropped from lawsuit

The ex-wife of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway is expected to be in court later this month to argue that she should be dropped from a...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The ex-wife of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway is expected to be in court later this month to argue that she should be dropped from a lawsuit filed by the mother of one of Ridgway's victims.

A Seattle lawyer representing Kathy Mills, the mother of 16-year-old murder victim Opal Mills, says the prime concern is that the former Mrs. Ridgway will sell her story and profit from talking about her life with the serial killer.

"Not one person would be interested in Judith Mawson Ridgway's story if she hadn't been married to Gary Ridgway," said lawyer William S. Bailey. "There's no intrinsic value to her story, apart from her being married to a mass murderer."

But attorney Jeffrey Burnham, who represents Judith Mawson, said his client "has no plans to write a book or profit from this case." Instead, she is looking to be removed from Mills' wrongful-death suit, which was filed against Ridgway and his "marital community," Burnham said. The civil suit was filed shortly after Ridgway's 2001 arrest.

By law, Gary Ridgway is not allowed to profit financially from books, movie deals or any other publicity related to his crimes. Convicted of killing 48 young women between 1982 and 1998, Ridgway is currently serving 48 consecutive life sentences at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Bailey said Ridgway's son and other family members "have already done the decent thing" in refusing to publicize and profit from their relationships with the killer.

Mills, according to Bailey, would have dropped her civil suit against Mawson had Mawson agreed not to publicly talk about her marriage to Ridgway. When it became clear that would not happen, Bailey said, he negotiated an agreement with Mawson's former attorney whereby a third of any profits Mawson received would go to the Sexual Assault Center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

According to documents filed in King County Superior Court, Bailey contends Mawson verbally agreed to the arrangement. But it appears that after changing lawyers, Mawson also changed her mind.

Burnham, however, says his client never agreed — verbally or otherwise — to such an arrangement. He further contends that Mawson "should never have been sued in the first place," saying his client is "an innocent victim" who knew nothing of her husband's crimes and divorced him immediately after murder allegations came to light.

For Bailey, who is representing Mills for free, the whole point of the lawsuit "is to try to preserve some dignity" for Ridgway's victims and their families. He plans to ask a judge "to find it would be unjust enrichment to allow [Mawson] to profit from her familial relationship with a mass murderer."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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