By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – As many as 180 potential jurors will be questioned when the trial for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of an elderly Ethel couple opens next week.
Described as one of the most horrific homicides in Lewis County, prosecutors have said the targets were selected more or less at random, taken from their home prior to a Christmas party and forced to drive to their bank to withdraw money before getting shot in their backs and dumped on a logging road.
One of the two long-suspected brothers – then in their 20s – who was arrested last year plans to take the witness stand in the weeks-long trial, according to his lawyer.
“He’s absolutely going to testify,” Seattle-based attorney John Crowley said today.
Ricky Riffe, now 54, remains in the Lewis County Jail, held on $5 million bail since he was brought back to town from his home in Alaska a year ago in July. He is charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery and burglary, with numerous aggravating factors such as the vulnerability of the victims. His younger brother John Gregory Riffe died last summer.
The bodies of Ed Maurin, 81 and Wilhelmina “Minnie” Maurin, 83, were finally found on Christmas Eve days after they vanished from their home.
“This is a case where Mr. Riffe is going to tell the jury he did not do this, it’s going to be very simple,” Crowley told the judge today.
Lawyers on both sides met with Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey this morning to go over details for the trial that begins on Monday morning.
For the state, elected Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead are assisted by sheriff’s detective Bruce Kimsey.
On the other side, Crowley and his paralegal Richard Davis will be sharing the defense table with Riffe.
Likely, the judge will weed out those who cannot serve for the lengthy case before a questionnaire is filled out by those remaining.
Crowley and prosecutors today discussed such issues as whether the written inquiry should be so specific as to share that Riffe is charged as either the principal player or an accomplice in the crimes. It won’t.
Meyer requested a potential juror be excused now, since he works for the county and was needed to continue to help with the technical systems which will be used in the courtroom. He was.
Halstead said they’d like to take photos of the more than 200 witnesses they will call to the stand, which may be used in a visual presentation during closing arguments. They can.
Judge Brosey said he wants six alternate jurors, in case any of the 12 chosen for any reason can’t continue.
Crowley was adamant they shouldn’t today address setting a trial date for an unrelated charge of child rape which prosecutors filed earlier this year.
He suggested that prosecutors were attempting to influence pre-trial publicity against his client and said it should not take place until after this jury is selected. Brosey postponed it.
They spoke of whether the Maurin’s car should have a place in the proceedings, and Crowley took the opportunity to note none of the 40 pieces of evidence collected from the car is connected to Riffe. The vehicle wasn’t preserved, Halstead said.
“Both sides have to deal with the fact this is a 27-year-old case,” Brosey said.
Both sides finally agreed they had all of the so-called discovery from the other – copies of all the statements, all the evidence, anything that either party plans to use in the case.
Prosecutors have more 400 items which will be presented as evidence during the trial.
Among the witnesses expected are a friend of the Riffes who said he used drugs with the brothers and recalled mentioning the couple must have a lot of money as the three drove past the Maurin’s house not long before their death; an individual who revealed in 2004 that John Riffe threatened to kill both him and his mother if he spoke about seeing the brothers with the Maurins in the Maurin’s car; another man interviewed in prison who said John Riffe paid him more than $2,000 in $100 bills for cocaine after the deaths; and numerous other people who have reportedly told detectives of seeing a man or men who matched the brothers’ descriptions at various key places that day, often noting one wearing a dark stocking cap, wearing an Army jacket or carrying a gun.
The trial will take place in the largest courtroom on the fourth floor of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center. It can hold 150 individuals.
The judge said no person will be kept out from any part of the proceedings. It will take at least all day Monday to pick the jury, according to Halstead.
The attorneys have previously said the trial could last three to four weeks. The judge will be telling prospective jurors it could last as long as six weeks.