I was about to come face-to-face with a serial killer.
OK, there's a sheet of bulletproof glass separating the King County Jail's courtroom from spectators, and Green River murder suspect Gary Ridgway would actually have his back to me, and the guy is innocent until proven guilty—but I was determined to get a look.
Along with about 35 other journalists, I attended Ridgway's first court appearance—a Saturday bail hearing. As a City Hall reporter, I'd been in the jail courtroom just once before, when former council member John Manning was arrested for assault (Seattle officials have since managed to keep themselves out of the slammer).
The tension in the room was palpable; photographers and TV cameramen staked out spots along the glass, and the rest of us sat on three wooden benches. District Court Judge pro tem Ann Harper was in no hurry; her plan was to run through a set of misdemeanor bail hearings, then move on to the main event.
But then came the heartbreaking announcement that Ridgway would waive his right to appear. The electric atmosphere in the room disappeared as eager anticipation turned to grim professionalism. The first misdemeanor inmate, a guy detained on Florida warrants, entered the courtroom and gave a start at the sight of a dozen cameras pressed against the glass. Everyone chuckled.
After the misdemeanor calendar was completed, the audio feed from the courtroom was cut—and stayed off despite a flurry of frantic arm waving from the gallery as deputy prosecutor Jeff Baird and public defenders Mark Prothero and James Robinson completed Ridgway's brief hearing. Curiously, the sound kicked in just as Baird left the courtroom. (He later blamed our silent treatment on "a mistake." Yeah, right.) To the surprise of no one, Harper allowed Ridgway to be held without bail.
After Baird's brief comments, about half the media mob milled around the jail lobby looking for someone to interview. A man in a ball cap chatting with the guard at the jail entrance surveyed the scene, then made his escape. "I don't want no part of this," he said. I followed his wise example.