Surely there are thousands of people out there who don't think much of Norm Maleng. But most of them are in prison. When he died


Norm Maleng

A prosecutor with a thing about fair play.

Surely there are thousands of people out there who don't think much of Norm Maleng. But most of them are in prison. When he died last night at age 68, he was indeed "the heart and soul of justice in this community for more than 30 years," as described by federal judge Robert Lasnik, his former chief of staff who tried some of Maleng's most notable cases, including the 1983 Wah Me Massacre of 13 people at a Chinatown gambling club and the 1985 Christmas Eve murders of attorney Charles Goldmark, his wife and two sons by madman David Lewis Rice.

Those and other Maleng prosecutions - Green River killer Gary Ridgway and firefighter-killing arsonist Martin Pang - come with the job but Maleng earned wide respect for a consistent and fair application of justice in resolving them, controversially, for example, not seeking the death penalty for Ridgway in return for the serial killer's confessions about and locations of the bodies he'd widely interred.

He didn't quite as enthusiastically pursue cases against cops in death cases: In his 28 years, none of perhaps 100 coroner's inquest verdicts, even those rarely critical of officer conduct, led to the charging of a law enforcement officer in King County, although he did directly charge other officers with felonies in cases that weren't close calls. (Among the cops not prosecuted were those who killed 31-year-old Antonio Dunsmore in 1985, a mentally retarded man with a water pistol, shooting him 25 times even though he was cornered in their headlights). In Maleng's name, his staff negligently prosecuted the innocent - Rodney Fletcher, who'd been wrongly accused of stealing school computer equipment in 1993, later sued for intentional violation of his civil rights in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Maleng personally argued, and lost.But, said defense attorney John Wolfe, one of his longest adversaries, "He made his decisions not only with his head, but with his heart. Each of his decisions reflected not only his character, but his courage." He'd slowed a bit with age; I'd see him at the local QFC or Starbucks, and last weekend, in a jogging suit on a street corner in Magnolia Village, often standing and staring into space (when you greeted him, he'd smoothly turn and respond - he'd just been thinking deeply I guess). To see him often idling about by himself, a man who put away vicious killers and vengeful thugs, yet an almost mockingly cherubic smile at the ready, tends to suggest a man at peace, satisfied he'd always tried to do the right thing.

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