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Originally published February 18, 2011 at 1:32 PM | Page modified February 19, 2011 at 10:33 AM

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Green River killer Ridgway pleads guilty to 49th murder

Victim's family reacts in courtroom as Gary L. Ridgway again avoids death penalty for a 1980s serial slaying.

Seattle Times staff reporter

KING5 | Green River killer pleads guilty to 49th murder

The nation's most prolific serial killer marked his 62nd birthday Friday by pleading guilty to his 49th murder.

Gary L. Ridgway, who spent a decade and a half prowling for teenage girls and women on the fringes of society, admitted to a packed Kent courtroom that among his first victims was a 20-year-old prostitute named Rebecca "Becky" Marrero.

Marrero was last seen walking out of a SeaTac motel on Dec. 3, 1982, leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, her boyfriend and her sister.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Mary Marrero, the victim's sister, called Ridgway "a waste to society and a waste of space."

Ridgway had long admitted to killing Marrero, but her remains weren't found until December in an Auburn ravine. The discovery allowed King County prosecutors to charge the so-called Green River killer with aggravated murder in her slaying.

With Marrero's family seated nearby in the courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, Ridgway was sentenced to an additional count of life in prison. Because of his previous confession, the new murder charge falls under the terms of the 2003 plea agreement that spared him from a potential death penalty, King County prosecutors said.

Following Ridgway's arrest in 2002, then-King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng agreed he would not seek the death penalty against him in exchange for his cooperation in locating the remains of dozens of victims. Ultimately, Ridgway admitted to nearly 70 slayings, but at the time prosecutors said they only had evidence linking him to 48 cases.

Ridgway appeared in court dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He was surrounded by eight officers from the King County Jail, state Department of Corrections and court security.

After entering his guilty plea, Ridgway answered "yes" to a series of questions from King County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird, who sought to make sure he understood the ramifications of his plea. Ridgway showed little emotion.

Superior Court Judge Mary E. Roberts accepted the plea after briefly questioning Ridgway.

Mary Marrero described the toll her sister's death has taken on her family.

"It's been a long 29 years without Becky Marrero," she said.

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She said she didn't agree with the plea deal that spared Ridgway from the death penalty.

"What does it take to get the death penalty in the state of Washington, your honor?" she said. "It makes me sick to my stomach that he beat the system."

Ridgway tried to apologize to the family, but was shouted down by members of the audience.

In December, three teens stumbled upon Marrero's remains in a ravine in the 6300 block of 296th Street, just west of West Valley Highway North. The area is near where Ridgway disposed of another victim.

Earlier this month, after charging Ridgway with the new slaying, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that the sentencing would give Marrero's family a chance to face her killer.

"They finally have answers, and with the anticipated guilty plea they will obtain the truth," Satterberg said during a news conference.

After Ridgway was charged with Marrero's slaying, defense attorney Mark Prothero said that Ridgway wanted "to step up and take responsibility for it now."

Marrero fit the profile of Ridgway's victims, who were mostly young runaways, prostitutes or drug addicts picked up on Pacific Highway South.

Among the observers in court Friday was Virginia Graham, of Spokane, the sister of Ridgway victim Debra Lorraine Estes, 15. She said Estes and Marrero were childhood friends.

Regarding the Marrero family's emotional state, "I know where they are," Graham said. "They're in my thoughts and prayers."

Estes was last seen Sept. 20, 1982. Her remains were found on May 30, 1988, in Federal Way.

Ridgway provided authorities with several locations where he thought Marrero's body could be found, from Tukwila to Interstate 90, according to court documents. With dozens of victims, the Green River killer couldn't remember exactly where he disposed of the body, "but said he was sure it would eventually be found," the documents said.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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