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Published: Friday, July 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Defense: Cold cases shouldn’t be linked

EVERETT — Attorneys for a convicted rapist charged with two 1995 cold-case killings say Snohomish County prosecutors are trying to prop up a pair of weak murder charges by taking them to trial as a matched set.
It would be unfair to Danny Ross Giles for a single jury to decide whether sufficient evidence connects him to Patti Berry's killing and the separate disappearance and presumed death of Tracey Brazzel, his public defenders said in court papers filed last week.
They've asked Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss to find the Berry and Brazzel cases insufficiently linked to be the subject of a single trial. The cases stem from separate incidents weeks apart, 19 years ago.
“The two women did not know each other. No witnesses associate Mr. Giles with either alleged victim. No witnesses have seen Mr. Giles with either woman,” public defender Neal Friedman wrote.
But forensic tests link Giles to genetic evidence gathered years ago from both women's cars, prosecutors say. They charged him in 2012 with two counts of first-degree murder.
The cases are strong, but for different reasons, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said in court papers.
Giles is charged with killing “two young women of similar age, similar lifestyle, similar looks, in the same general location, at the same approximate time of day, within two months of each other,” Matheson wrote.
Further, evidence leads detectives to believe whoever is responsible used the victims' cars to transport their bodies to nearby hiding places, and then kept the car keys, perhaps as trophies, the prosecutor wrote.
The deaths were part of a common scheme or plan and legally appropriate for a single trial, Matheson said.
Brazzel, who worked as a hair stylist, dropped from sight May 27, 1995, after a night that included reported drug trafficking at a pub south of Everett along Highway 99. Berry went missing on July 31, 1995, after she finished working a shift dancing at Honey's, a nude nightclub that used to be along Highway 99 north of Lynnwood. When last seen, she was headed to find air for leaky tire. The closest location was a convenience store adjacent to the pub where Brazzel reportedly went missing.
Giles, 46, grew up in that part of the county, and began building a criminal record in his teens. His history includes the 1987 rape of a woman attacked while she was using a Lynnwood tanning bed, plus a string of other crimes against women and girls.
He was out of prison and living south of Everett in 1995 but was not a suspect in either the Berry or Brazzel cases. That changed in 2008 when genetic evidence — found on the steering wheel of Berry's blood-spattered car and from a spot on the exterior of Brazzel's vehicle — allegedly was linked to him through testing.
Forensic experts at the state crime lab calculated the statistical probability of a random DNA match to Giles in the Berry case at 1 in 580 million, and 1 in 56 quadrillion in the Brazzel case, according to court papers.
To resolve whether the charges are appropriate for a single trial, lawyers on both sides agree the judge needs to consider the relative strengths of each count and what defenses may be offered.
In a motion running dozens of pages, Friedman detailed what he sees as weaknesses in the cases.
For example, no physical evidence exists to show Brazzel met with violence, Friedman noted. Her body has never been found, and the detectives as recently as 2009 were quoted in news reports as describing what happened to her as “a total mystery.”
Berry was killed by multiple stab wounds, her car and body abandoned miles apart. The murder investigation identified numerous other potential suspects who were near her at the time of her death, Friedman noted, including a man from Texas she had been dating; drug dealers Berry did business with; an ex cop who sometimes followed dancers home; and a former owner of the nightclub whom she owed money.
After the genetic evidence surfaced, detectives in 2011 made repeated attempts at getting Giles to confess. He denied knowing anything.
The lead detective in the case, Jim Scharf, in 2010 wrote in one report “Even though we can link Danny Giles to the two victims vehicles, we are not able to show he is linked to the sexual assault or murder of these two victims,” Friedman noted.
Matheson's response to the severance motion also fills dozens of pages. In addition to the genetic test results, other evidence implicates Giles, he wrote. While the man told detectives he didn't know Brazzel, he wrote from jail to a friend a short time later and described being in her apartment, driving her car and even drinking milk from her refrigerator, the prosecutor noted.
Likewise, Giles denied ever having been where Berry was found. Detectives have since tracked down a former employer who said that during 1995 Giles was part of a landscaping crew that regularly worked at an adjacent housing complex. Berry's body was discovered in a wooded area the workers used as an outdoor restroom and for dumping grass clippings, Matheson wrote.
A hearing has been set late this month for Judge Weiss to consider the issues raised by attorneys. Giles trial is now scheduled to begin in late September.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews

Story tags » EverettTrialsProsecutionSex CrimesHomicideDrug Trafficking

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