As the long-awaited double-murder trial of Ed and Minnie Maurin ends its fourth week, the prosecution, through nearly 100 hours of testimony, have presented the 12 jurors and five alternates with evidence that suggests the Riffe brothers were dangerous drug dealers desperate for money.
Prosecutors allege that Rick Riffe, and his now-deceased brother, John Riffe, abducted the elderly Ethel couple from their home on Dec. 19, 1985 and forced them to withdraw $8,500 from a Chehalis bank. One of the brothers then made the couple drive to a rural logging road in Adna where he then allegedly executed them by shooting the pair in their backs with a sawed-off shotgun at close range inside their vehicle.
The brothers then used the money from the robbery and murder to purchase a large amount of cocaine and buy Christmas presents for their families, according to witness testimony.
It is an investigation that has spanned nearly three decades — so long that one of the suspects and several of the witnesses have already died.
Since the start of the trial, two of the three Maurins’ surviving children, Dennis Hadaller and Hazel Oberg, as well as a group of family, friends and supporters have filled the first few rows behind the prosecutor’s table.
Hadaller told the jury on the second day of trial that he laid his hand on his mother’s casket during her funeral and swore that he would find her killer until the day he died. When the case stalled in the 2000s, Hadaller hired two private investigators that helped move the case against the Riffe brothers forward.
Throughout the past four weeks, prosecutors have painted the Riffe brothers as heavy drug users and small-time drug dealers. In the small community of Mossyrock, both had dangerous reputations, and neither had a full-time job.
Prosecutors have presented the jury with photographs of Rick and John Riffe from the mid-80s countless times that show two young, rugged-looking men with intense brown eyes.
The old photographs of the defendant show the jury a stark contrast of the gray-haired, overweight, clean-shaven man who sits across the courtroom from them everyday.
In the 1980s, Rick was slender and had long, shaggy brown hair and dark eyes.
His brother had the same intensity in his eyes, which was a physical aspect that several eyewitnesses talked about during their testimony. John Riffe also had pock marks in his cheeks and a shaggy beard.
As promised in their opening statements, prosecutors have not presented any physical evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints, that link either brother to the slayings. In place of physical evidence, the prosecution has relied heavily on 28-year-old eyewitness testimony.
So far, the jury has heard from 83 witnesses. The most memorable witnesses, however, are from two men whose lives have been forever altered by this crime, even though neither one were related to the victims.
Jason Shriver, who was 17 years old at the time of the slayings, told the jury on Monday that on the morning of Dec. 19, 1985, he and his mother saw the Maurin vehicle pull out of the couple’s driveway on U.S. Highway 12. When his mother attempted to pass the car by driving into the opposite lane of traffic, Shriver looked over at the car and saw both the Riffe brothers, who he knew from living in Mossyrock, in the vehicle with the Maurins.
After the murders, the Riffe brothers approached him in downtown Mossyrock and told him if he ever told anyone what he saw, they would kill him, his mother and his family.
For more than two decades, Shriver said, he remained silent, petrified that the Riffe brothers would follow through with their threat.
“It was 28 years of looking over my shoulder,” Shriver told the jury Monday.
The other key eyewitness was William Forth, who testified during the second week of the trial that he was working as a deputy on the day the Maurins disappeared.
Forth, who was on patrol in the Adna area, testified he almost pulled over what he later believed to be the Maurin vehicle driven by one of the Riffe brothers on state Route 6, approximately four miles from where their bodies were discovered days later. At the time he saw the vehicle, the couple had not yet been reported missing.
The reason why he almost pulled it over, he said, was because he made eye contact with the driver.
“The eyes were so intense looking back at me,” Forth told the jury. “You could see fear in those eyes. There was a deep concern.”
After making eye contact, Forth said he pulled up behind the car, and began to mentally prepare himself to make the traffic stop. But for reasons still unknown to him, he did not pull the car over.
What he did not know at the time, and would later learn, was that the man who was driving the Maurins’ 1969 Chrysler Newport was possibly armed with a sawed-off shotgun, which he might have used moments earlier to shoot the elderly couple.
Because of Forth’s guilt of not pulling the car over that day, which would have likely brought closure to the case decades ago, Forth said it was part of the reason why he got out of law enforcement.
As the trial approaches an end, the pace of the testimony continues to slow as it is punctured frequently by objections regarding procedural issues by both the defense and prosecution.
Many of the objections result in the jury being sent out of the courtroom temporarily by the judge so the attorneys could argue outside their presence.
During the past two days, the jury has been sent out of the courtroom more than a dozen times.
While it is unclear how much longer the prosecution will continue its case, Riffe’s attorney, John Crowley told the judge Friday that the defense’s case will last approximately two days. Throughout the trial, the defense attorney has insisted the prosecution is assigning guilt to the wrong person.
"This fellow is innocent," Crowley said during opening arguments, pointing at Rick Riffe. "They have charged the wrong person."