1,000 Years in Jail's Not Enough

As King County faces a budget crisis, prosecutors spend big money piling on a convicted rapist.

Mark Wayne Rathbun is a terrifying individual. Known as the "Belmont Shore Rapist," he was described as "a monster" by the California judge who in 2004 sentenced him to 1,030 years, plus 10 consecutive life sentences, on 59 counts of rape. You might think that was enough. But to King County prosecutors, it wasn't. Despite a budget crisis that has county justice officials complaining about cuts to public safety, King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg recently put Rathbun on trial again, after DNA samples tied Rathbun to three rapes that occurred in Ballard in 1996 (a year before the California spree began). The three-week trial concluded October 13 with three convictions for first-degree burglary and three more for first-degree rape. Now awaiting sentencing, Rathbun continues to be housed in the King County Jail, where the average cost per inmate is $98 per day (according to a 2006 study by the King County Council), meaning the county has spent roughly $48,000 incarcerating someone who would otherwise have been imprisoned on California's dime. Rathbun's attorney, public defender Micheline Murphy of the Northwest Defenders Association, sees the prosecution as a waste of scarce resources. On the defense side alone, she notes, a DNA expert cost $22,345, and $777 was spent on photocopies. Northwest Defenders, which is funded by the county, devoted 270 attorney hours to Rathbun's case before the trial even started. All told, the case could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, a projected $93 million county budget shortfall means that many crimes are not being investigated or are being automatically pled down to lesser offenses. "As a taxpayer, I felt that this was a case of throwing good money after bad," Murphy said in an e-mail. "Regardless of anything that could have happened to Mr. Rathbun while in King County, he will still be imprisoned for the remainder of his life." The California Supreme Court already refused to hear Rathbun's appeal in October 2007, though he could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or attempt what is known as a collateral attack, introducing new evidence or claiming his lawyer was incompetent. Success with these tactics is exceedingly rare, but could result in resentencing or a new trial. King County's Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor, Mark Larson, argues that the nature of Rathbun's crimes required prosecution, noting that the office frequently declines to pursue lesser charges against defendants incarcerated elsewhere. "But short of homicide," he says, "the crimes [Rathbun] committed were the worst you could commit." Larson also cites the importance of the trial for the victims, who found the experience cathartic. And he adds that extra insurance against Rathbun's release never hurts. "Metaphorically speaking, [the convictions] are like belts and suspenders. You can always use another belt, another pair of suspenders. These guys are like mass murderers—our job is to do everything we can to keep them incarcerated."

 
comments powered by Disqus