A key witness who the prosecution anticipates will provide “damning” testimony against Rick Riffe, the man accused of murdering the elderly Ethel couple in 1985, will likely not survive to testify in the trial, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The witness, identified as Donald Burgess, died three times during a major heart attack on Aug. 28, said Lewis County deputy prosecutor Will Halstead during a court hearing Friday morning. Following the heart attack, both valves in his heart need to be replaced, and only 23 percent of Burgess’ heart works.
The prosecution requested that a deposition of Burgess be taken, which is an oral testimony done out of court, that will preserve the witness’ statements in case he does not survive until trial date.
Halstead requested the deposition be done prior to Oct. 24, which is the day Burgess is scheduled to undergo a surgery at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia that will place a stent in his heart.
If he does not undergo the surgery, he will likely die, he said, adding that Burgess may not survive anyway.
Riffe’s Seattle-based defense attorney, John Crowley, objected to the motion for the deposition, citing the slow rate that the prosecution has been handing over evidence to the defense.
“This discovery has been delayed from the court,” Crowley said, explaining that while the heart attack happened in late August, Crowley was not presented with knowledge of it until Oct. 3 during a court hearing.
Crowley also called in the credibility of the witness, saying that by Burgess’ was “an admitted liar,” an extortionist, a thief, and at one point in time was the “biggest drug dealer in the county.”
Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey authorized the deposition and ordered that it occur prior to the Oct. 24 surgery. He also ordered that the deposition be videotaped so it can be replayed to the jury. If he does survive, then the deposition testimony will be disregarded and Burgess will testify in front of the jury during trial.
This Christmas season will mark the 27th anniversary of the deaths of Wilhelmina “Minnie” Maurin, 83, and Edward “Ed” Maurin, 81, whose bodies were found at the end of a logging road on Christmas Eve on 1985, five days after their family reported them missing.
Authorities suspect Ricky Riffe and his brother John, of King Salmon, Alaska, who both were originally from Mossyrock, abducted the Ethel couple from their home, forced them to withdraw money from the bank, then later shot and killed them in their car, according to court documents.
The probable cause affidavit alleges that some of the money from the Maurin robbery was used to buy large quantities of cocaine.
Riffe was arrested in Alaska in July and later extradited to Washington. John Riffe died earlier this year before police could arrest him.
Riffe is currently charged with murder, kidnapping and other counts in relation to the death of the couple. If convicted, Riffe could face life in prison. Riffe is currently being held in the Lewis County Jail. His bail is set at $5 million.
The trial, which is currently set to begin the week of Jan. 31, 2013, is anticipated to last at least a month, and the prosecution has indicated that it will likely call more than 100 witnesses to testify.