Big trial set, but lawyer is elsewhere

The Chronicle (Centralia)October 7, 2013 

A defendant’s table in Lewis County Superior Court remained empty last week after a defense attorney failed to appear for a confirmation hearing for the trial of a man accused of two cold-case murders.

The absence came one week before one of the biggest homicide trials in Lewis County history is set to start.

John Crowley, who was hired to represent Rick Riffe, the Alaska man accused of killing an elderly Ethel couple in 1985, sent a declaration to the judge and called the prosecutor Monday to notify them that he was in trial in Kitsap County for a child molestation case and would not be able to make the court hearing.

Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey appeared angry at the last minute cancellation for a hearing that had been scheduled several months prior, adding that Crowley’s excuses did not add up.

“The stuff in this declaration makes no sense,” Brosey said. “The fact that he is in some other court is not my problem,” he said.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, who is prosecuting the case along with Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead, also voiced his frustration with Crowley’s absence, adding that he cannot definitively schedule witness testimony if the trial does not start on time.

Trial is scheduled to go from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday for four to six weeks. The jury will not be sequestered.

“Even if everything goes smoothly, it’s still a scheduling nightmare,” Meyer said.

The state’s witness list has more than 200 people on it, and more than 30 of them live in seven different states, including Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Oregon, California, Texas and Ohio.

If they are called to testify, the cost of their travel and housing will come out of the prosecutor’s office’s budget.

Riffe is charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery for the deaths of Wilhelmina “Minnie” Maurin, 83, and Edward “Ed” Maurin, 81, both of Ethel, in 1985.

Authorities suspect Rick Riffe and his brother, John Riffe, abducted the couple from their Ethel home, forced them to withdraw money from a 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. The Riffe brothers lived in Mossyrock at the time of the slayings.

John Riffe died in 2012 before police could arrest him. Rick Riffe is charged with murder, kidnapping and other counts in relation to the death of the couple. If convicted, Riffe could face life in prison.

Crowley has told The Chronicle on numerous occasions that there is “zero connection” between his client and the Maurins’ slayings.

Riffe has been held at the Lewis County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail since authorities traveled to King Salmon, Alaska, in July 2012 to arrest him. He was extradited to Washington shortly after his arrest. His trial has been delayed four times since then.

Prior to every delay, Crowley has made assurances that he was ready to go to trial and that his client wanted the matter “settled” as quickly as possible.

Crowley, on his law firm’s website, prides himself for having never “shied away from high-profile, high-stakes cases,” adding that “he has successfully fought for clients whose verdicts would have otherwise been predetermined if left to the court of public opinion.”

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