Ricky A. Riffe listens to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer give his opening statements in the double murder trial in Lewis County Superior Court.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Finally today, folks heard a different version of the events from December 1985, that led up to the deaths of Ed and Wilhelmina Maurin, the elderly couple who vanished from their house in Ethel and whose bodies were found days later dumped off a logging road near Adna.
It wasn’t Ricky A. Riffe, his lawyer explained, as he told jurors they would hear from a witness who saw the Maurin’s car kind of fishtailing, along with something like a blue LeMans that seemed to be with it.
In the couple’s green car were the Maurins along with two others, defense attorney John Crowley said.
“One guy was a big fella, probably 240 pounds,” Crowley said.
His client weighed about 130 pounds at that time, he said.
“Another person in the car was smaller, but still larger than Rick,” he said.
Riffe, 55, is on trial in Lewis County Superior Court, charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery and burglary.
Since his arrest last year, prosecutors have contended longtime suspects Riffe and his now-deceased brother John Gregory Riffe somehow got into the couple’s home on U.S. Highway 12, uncovered bank records and forced the couple to go with them to their bank in Chehalis to withdraw $8,500 before shooting them in the backs.
The former Lewis County resident was brought from his home in King Salmon, Alaska, to the jail where he’s been held on $5 million bail. Numerous pretrial hearings later, lawyers finally made their opening statements this afternoon in the Chehalis courtroom.
“This fella is innocent,” Crowley told the jury. “They have charged the wrong person.”
A jury of five men and seven women have been told they could be serving for up to six weeks. Prosecutors plan for some 200 individuals to give testimony and more than 400 items to be presented as evidence during the trial.
Crowley began by saying his client was just a regular guy, who was born in Ketchikan and lived in logging camps until age 14. His family came to Lewis County but later, when he was having trouble finding work, decided to go back to Alaska where he still had family.
He admitted Riffe had gotten into what many refer to as a poor man’s cocaine – methamphetamine. Nothing about his activities were unusual compared to others in his age group, Crowley said.
His client, who is expected to take the witness stand at some point, won’t even be able say when he first heard about the Maurin’s deaths, he said.
Crowley spent much of 30 minutes discussing various witnesses and evidence the jury would hear.
The autopsies showed the Maurins ate breakfast that morning, the dished were done, their house was clean, he said.
“The thing about the Maurin’s, it was probably known they had money,” he said. “They were well known in the community.”
Someone from Sterling Savings Bank was going to explain how Ed Maurin phoned, wanting to withdraw money, because his children wanted him to get a new car, he said, and when he arrived, he was his usual “good natured” self.
“These people were horribly murdered, without a doubt,” Crowley said.
But there’s only one person who claims to have seen Riffe in the car with the Maurins, and he was only 14 years at the time, he said. And it was years later when police finally hear from him, he said.
Jurors can also expect to hear from an inmate who claims Riffe has confessed since he’s been in the Lewis County Jail, but that person has given information on three cases in his desire to get out, according to Crowley.
“He’s innocent. Innocent,” he said. “I’ll ask you to find him not guilty of each of these charges.”
In contrast today, elected Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer spoke for only 13 minutes, giving the jurors a run down of what was to come.
It wasn’t normal for Ed Maurin to do the banking, Meyer said. Yet he called the bank and went into the bank, insisting he wanted his money in $100 bills.
The day after the Maurins disappeared, and their blood-stained car was found parked in the lot at Yard Birds in Chehalis, leads started pouring in, according to Meyer.
“Green Army coat, blue jeans, carrying a gun, stocking cap,” Meyer said. “That’s the description police got of someone walking away from Yard Birds.”
And in the early 1990s, Rick and his brother John Gregory Riffe became suspects, he said.
Jurors will hear how both men are picked out on photo montage’s, he said.
Rick Riffe and his wife begin acting strange around Christmastime, witnesses tell of being threatened and the Riffes flee to Alaska, according to Meyer.
“Rick starts an online relationship with a wife of a witness,” he said. “Rick even goes so far as to trying to get one witness to move to Alaska.”
Meyer notes all the blood and DNA evidence came back to match the Maurins and their family.
“Lack of fingerprints, hair, DNA, does not mean a crime did not happen,” he said.
Jurors will hear of a witness who heard the Riffes planning the crime, and Rick Riffe admitting to the crimes, he said.
Three family members of the Maurins testified this afternoon, the first two telling about the day the couple went missing, Dec. 19, 1985.
The Maurin’s then-daughter-in-law Shirley Hadaller said Wilhelmina “Minnie” Maurin was holding the monthly luncheon for an older ladies church group. It was extra special because of the holidays and the husbands were invited, jurors would soon hear. She and Dennis Hadaller lived about a mile away, she said.
The guests arrived, and the Maurins weren’t home.
“One of the ladies called me, there was no one there,” Shirley Hadaller testified.
She told of finding the house locked, the car gone and one of Minnie’s sons crawling through a window, so they could get inside. She called Minnie’s daughter who drove up from Toledo with her husband, she said.
Hazel Oberg then told the jury of arriving in the evening, and searching the house with other family members.
They found bank statements near the telephone, a box with bank statements on the floor of the bathroom and her mother’s purse beneath a newspaper beside the chair she always sat in, she said.
“I said, oh, this isn’t right,” Oberg said, having noted the couple who raised beef and leased their land for Christmas tree growing kept their financial matters very private and wouldn’t leave records laying around.
She made many phone calls that night, she said.
“I just kept calling,” Oberg said. ” I called the hospitals, I called their friends, I called my aunt and uncle.”
The Maurin’s grandson who was about 20 years old at the time was the final witness of the day.
Michael Hadaller said he lived about a mile down U.S. Highway 12 and worked with his father at his namesake business, Dennis Hadaller Logging. He described the two of them driving by his grandparent’s place about 5:30 a.m. that day and seeing a light on in the bedroom window.
“(My father) made the comment, it’s awfully early for the lights to be on,” Michael Hadaller said. “I said, grandpa’s probably up going to the bathroom.”
Michael Hadaller testified he later went to work in Alaska for about eight years and went there to look for the Riffe brothers but never caught up with them.
“So you believed they took out your grandparents, and you were going to take them out?” Crowley asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Testimony is expected to resume in the morning.