Defense in cold case killings may try to shift suspicion to fired deputies
Attorneys for Danny Ross Giles last week sought a court order to insure they’ve been provided all available county disciplinary and personnel records about former sheriff’s deputies John Padilla and Michael Beatie.
Both men were fired after sheriff’s office internal investigations; Beatie in 1997 and Padilla in 2004. Both played roles in police efforts to determine what happened to Patti Berry and Tracy Brazzel nearly 19 years ago.
Prosecutors say Giles is linked by DNA evidence to Berry’s fatal stabbing and to Brazzel’s disappearance and presumed death.
Defense attorneys, however, are following up on suspicions that Padilla and Beatie somehow were involved, court papers show.
Neal Friedman, one of the seasoned Snohomish County public defenders assigned to Giles’ case, is seeking all sheriff’s office records about potential misconduct involving Beatie and Padilla.
“At this point in the investigation there are many different theories as to what happened. This is just one of them,” he said last week.
The county has provided Friedman with much of what he’s been seeking, including records from internal sheriff’s office investigations of both men. But the passage of time has led to the destruction of some of the former deputies’ personnel records, and there are other gaps.
For example, Friedman has received a follow-up report from 2013, documenting a cold-case detective’s conversation with former sheriff Rick Bart, who said he ordered Beatie be investigated as a potential suspect in both cases.
“The defense has not received any reports from any such investigation,” Friedman wrote. “Certainly the information in his personnel file is material to the defense assertion that Mr. Beatie was involved either as a principal or an accomplice in the Berry murder and, if Ms. Brazzel was murdered, involved in that murder as well.”
Longtime deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson is gearing up to bring Giles to trial in the fall on two counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors knew they’d have to address questions about the former deputies, he said, but there’s a lot of argument to come over what winds up in front of jurors.
Beatie used to patrol the area south of Everett. That’s the same neighborhood where Berry had worked at a nude dance club, and where Brazzel reportedly was last seen.
Beatie was the first deputy on the scene when Berry’s blood-spattered car was found a few days after she failed to return home from work one night in July 1995. He also reportedly interviewed the bouncer at a tavern where Brazzel is believed to have been last seen in May of that year.
Beatie was fired after a string of internal investigations during his 11-year career, including one conducted by Seattle police at the request of the sheriff’s office. He was found to have repeatedly engaged in improper behaviors, including making unwelcome visits to the homes of exotic dancers, developing a personal relationship with a woman he met as part of a sexual assault investigation and unwelcome contact with other women he randomly encountered on the job, records show.
Bart, who is now police chief in Forks on the Washington coast, last week said he was sufficiently concerned about what the internal investigations turned up that he wanted Beatie investigated as a potential suspect in Berry’s case.
Beatie cooperated with the investigation and ultimately was cleared, Matheson said. Prosecutors will argue against jurors being told about the circumstances of Beatie’s departure from the sheriff’s office, and the suspicion that for a time was focused his direction, he said.
Some of Padilla’s mistakes, however, almost certainly will wind up being discussed at trial, Matheson said.
Padilla was the lead detective in the Berry case for the first five years. He was fired from the sheriff’s office nearly a decade ago after being charged with domestic violence assaults on his former wife and an ex-girlfriend, as well as mishandling evidence in the Berry case.
The evidence issue was discovered when Padilla’s former wife, who was then divorcing him, brought the sheriff’s office a box she reported finding in a closet at their home. Inside were videotapes from the Berry investigation as well as a sealed package that contained hairs that had been found on Berry’s body. The material had been sent for genetic testing at an out-of-state lab.
When confronted by sheriff’s internal affairs investigators, Padilla admitted he’d done wrong in his personal life, records show. He was unable to explain how the genetic evidence and videotapes wound up in his closet.
Padilla had received honors for police work. But in the letter that ended his more than 17-year career at the sheriff’s office, Padilla’s supervisors called his evidence handling in the Berry case “incompetent at best” and said it likely would jeopardize any prosecution.
Padilla’s troubles and the implications for the Berry case became public in 2006, when The Seattle Times reported the circumstances of his termination as part of a series of investigative stories regarding secrets hidden in sealed court records.
The story said Bart had ordered detectives to investigate Padilla in connection with Berry’s killing. Friedman attached a copy of the article to his motion for records on Padilla.
After the story was published, Bart didn’t deny telling reporters for the Times that Padilla was investigated in the Berry case. He insisted, however, that the former detective never was suspected in the killing. He said the same thing when contacted last week.
Padilla wasn’t investigated for Berry’s killing, Matheson said.
“I think it would be inaccurate to indicate that he (Padilla) ever had been a suspect,” Matheson said. “It would be accurate to say he mishandled some evidence, and that’s all been written about, ad nauseam.”
The packaged hairs found in Padilla’s closet all tested as belonging to Berry. That ultimately shouldn’t impact the case against Giles because he’s connected by different genetic evidence, Matheson said.
“But it is an issue we have to deal with,” he added.
Giles, 46, has pleaded not guilty to killing Berry, 26, and Brazzel, 22. Indeed, his attorneys, in court papers, say they do not believe Brazzel’s death can even be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Her body has never been found.
Giles, who has spent much of his life cycling in and out of prison, wasn’t a suspect in either case in 1995. Investigators began focusing on him in 2008 after genetic material from the car where Berry was fatally stabbed reportedly matched a DNA sample Giles provided when sent to prison three years earlier. Genetic tests also reportedly connect him to blood found on Brazzel’s abandoned vehicle.
Giles’ criminal record includes the 1987 rape of a woman attacked while she was in a tanning bed and other crimes against women and girls, starting in his teens. He was just days from finishing his latest prison sentence — for flashing his genitals at young women in Seattle — when search warrants became public detailing suspicions about his involvement in the 1995 crimes. King County prosecutors swiftly obtained court orders to have him locked up at the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island awaiting trial on whether he should be declared a sexually violent predator. He was there in 2012 when the Snohomish County murder charges were filed.
Giles was free in 1995, reportedly supporting himself through under-the-counter jobs. He was known to frequent the same pub where Brazzel reportedly was last seen and where Berry often stopped after work, according to court papers.
The statistical probability of a random DNA match to Giles in the Berry case was calculated at 1 in 580 million, and 1 in 56 quadrillion in the Brazzel case, according to court papers.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org
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