Sheri Amell Potter answers questions from the witness stand; defendant Ricky Riffe, far right, listens to her testimony.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – So far, no one who knew defendant Ricky Riffe has offered testimony placing him at the Maurin’s house, at the bank, at the Yard Birds or the logging road where the elderly couple’s bodies were found on Dec. 24, 1985.
Riffe, 55, is on trial in Lewis County Superior Court for the kidnapping, robbery and murder of Ed and Minnie Maurin. His younger brother John Gregory Riffe was about to be charged similarly last year, but he died of ill health at age 50.
Prosecutors contend the former Mossyrock area brothers are responsible for forcing the couple to drive from their Ethel home to withdraw thousands of dollars from Sterling Savings in Chehalis before cutting them down with a shotgun and leaving them dead in the woods outside Adna. The Maurin’s green sedan was found abandoned the next morning in a far corner of the parking lot at a Chehalis shopping center.
Numerous witnesses have told the jury of seeing a man in a green jacket and dark cap walking away from Yard Birds in Chehalis carrying a a rifle or shotgun.
As the trial ended its third week, three more individuals took the stand to discuss who they noticed when they drove through the shopping center almost 28 years ago.
One woman seemed very certain she saw Ricky Riffe there on Dec. 19, 1985. Another was positive she saw John Gregory Riffe there. Each said the man they observed was alone.
A third witness however, came forward last September to tell of seeing two men he identified as the brothers at the eastern edge of the parking lot, wiping down the Maurins’ 1969 Chrysler.
Sheri Amell Potter lives in Olympia but in December 1985 was a passenger in a vehicle heading toward the northeast exit from Yard Birds. Amell Potter told of a man stepping out of the fog and crossing behind them, and into the marshy area north of the property.
“As he passed, I said, ‘Oh my God Mary, that guy had a gun’,” she testified.
It was in his left hand, something white was wrapped around where the trigger would be, she said.
He was white with really dark hair, very dark eyes, a mustache and like two to three days worth of whiskers, dressed in something like an Army jacket, she described.
Amell Potter said she thought he was in his late 20s, as she was in her early 20s and she knew he was older than her.
She estimated the man was about six feet away from her. She swiveled in her seat to watch him walk up a berm-path toward the Lewis County Mall.
Amell Potter said she was employed at a bank at the time and was told at work some old people had gone into a bank and were missing. It was two days later when she thought again about the man with the gun and called her friend Mary to ask which day the couple disappeared, she testified.
She called the police.
Amell Potter and her friend were taken to a forensic artist in Portland where their descriptions helped create a drawing of the person. Later they went to Seattle where her friend assisted with a second composite.
In the courtroom, she was shown a number of images on the big screen. She felt like the face of the man in the first drawing was a bit too wide, she said. The second drawing was better, but she didn’t get the correct sense of the chin, she said.
“He had a really distinctive chin,” he said. “He didn’t have much of a chin.”
In February 2012, she met with Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Bruce Kimsey, who showed her actual photos of people. She chose one which showed both a full face and a side profile. It was Ricky Riffe.
“I felt very confident that was the person,” Amell Potter said of her selection.
Under questioning by Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead, she was asked if she’d had an opportunity to look at the defendant in the courtroom.
“Yes, his side profile is very familiar to the picture I picked then,” Amell Potter said.
Brenda King has lived in Lewis County since 1969.
Back in 1985, she was a single mother with three children who worked two jobs, one of them as a bartender at the Wilson Tavern in Centralia.
On Dec. 19, 1985, she and the man who later became her husband were driving past the north end of the Yard Birds Shopping Center building, she testified.
“I noticed a 1969 Chrysler Newport, it was green,” King told the jury.
“I see John Gregory Riffe getting out of the car with a shotgun,” she said.
It startled her.
“I’m the driver of a 1972 Montego, my husband is a passenger,” she said. “To the best of my recollection, the person I seen was going by a different name.”
He used an alias, she said.
“At the time, I recognized him as John G. Muzzleman.”
He looked at her, she looked at him, and then he looked down, according to King. He was squeezing his way out of the vehicle, she testified.
“He had the door so close to his body, he obviously didn’t want us to see what was inside,” she said.
King said she was the one wearing a watch, so she knew it was between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. She said she was 100 percent positive the shotgun was sawed off and it had a brown butt.
It was a few days after the arrest hit the news in July of 2012 that King first contacted police. She saw photos of Ricky Riffe and his brother in the newspaper story, she said.
King said she knew both the brothers, who used the last name Muzzleman, as she’d served them at the bar.
“They’d come in periodically, to the point where I got to know them quite good,” she said. “They were usually together.”
Her husband Steven King testified as well yesterday, that he recalled the day. He saw the man getting out the car, with dark hair and a stocking cap, but didn’t see a gun, he said.
“The reason I looked at him is cause Brenda told me she knew the guy,” he said.
The couple both testified they saw him again later, walking up Kresky Avenue, on the east side of the road.
They’d been out to shop for materials for a remodeling project, and stopped to get coffee while they waited for Yard Birds to open, they said.
Steven King, under questioning by defense attorney John Crowley, said he’d heard of the Maurins murders, but he was busy and didn’t get involved.
After his wife told him last year about the newspaper article, they figured they should speak up, he testified.
Witness Gordon Campbell lived in Chehalis between 1970 and 1999; he worked at the Centralia Steam Plant, he testified.
Campbell first spoke to the sheriff’s office in 1988, to tell them that about two years earlier, he had seen a man walking north of Kresky Avenue with either a long rifle of a shotgun, covered up with something, he testified.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer asked him what prompted him to talk with police.
“Well, the case had been going on a long time, I thought I could help a little bit, so I thought I’d come in and tell ‘em what I seen,” Campbell said.
The cap was dark blue, the finger-tip length jacket was olive drab and he was walking toward Lewis County Mall with it in his right hand, he testified.
“I could see just the shape of a gun,” Campbell said.
Campbell said at the time, he was working the graveyard shift, so he was out driving around that morning, killing time to get his sleep patterns back on track.
He testified he spoke next with the sheriff’s office in June 2012, and then he contacted them once again that September, after word of Riffe’s arrest had been in the news.
He saw photos of the Riffe brothers on television, he said, and it reminded him of something else he remembered.
Campbell testified about driving through the Yard Birds parking lot and to the northeast corner where he spotted two men wiping down a car. It was the same vehicle Meyer showed on the overhead screen in the courtroom, the Maurin’s 1969 Chrysler, according to Campbell.
He suggested they take it through a carwash, he said.
Meyer showed Campbell pictures of the Riffe brothers.
John Gregory Riffe was on one side and Ricky Riffe, on the driver’s side closest to Campbell, doing the same thing, wiping the open car door, according to Campbell.
“Did you get a good look at both of them?” Meyer asked.
“Yes,” Campbell said.
Campbell testified he didn’t remember what their response to him was, but John Gregory Riffe told his brother to close the door. And he did, he said.
Meyer asked the witness about why the detectives didn’t hear about the car wiping when Campbell first was interviewed.
“Well to begin with, I thought I was talking about one person,” he said. “Then I find we’re talking about two.”
The first the lawyers on both sides learned from Campbell he had the brief conversation with the men was this past Tuesday.
The one he saw carrying what looked to be a covered up gun was Ricky Riffe, according to Campbell.
Witness Brenda King uses a laser pointer on a big screen in Lewis County Superior Court.
Denny Hadaller, center, talks with prosecutors as the court sessions ends.