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Thursday, September 10, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gary Ackley Murder Case In Jury's Hands -- Defendant Mischaracterized During Trial, His Attorney Says

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Gary Ackley, charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his girlfriend's mother and his childhood friend, has been wrongly accused and mischaracterized by police and prosecutors since the beginning of the investigation, his attorney told jurors yesterday in Seattle during closing arguments in King County Superior Court.

Attorney Jeff Ellis said that despite not having any direct evidence against Ackley, police and prosecutors targeted his client although there was other evidence that may have led to another suspect or suspects.

"Mr. Ackley was called a liar (during the prosecution's closing arguments Tuesday) I don't know how many times. I ask you to separate the truth from the accusation," Ellis said.

He added that "there is a (prosecutorial) theme here, and the theme is, let's label Gary Ackley a liar, and let's not look at the proof. . . . Every statement Mr. Ackley has made is viewed in the worst possible light."

Jury is deliberating

The case went to the jury yesterday afternoon.

Ackley, 29, is accused of killing Arlene Jensen, 53, of Kingsgate on May 26, 1997, and Stephanie Dittrick of Redmond on July 5.

Jensen's body was buried under sticks and brush in a drainage area in Woodinville. Dittrick's body was found at a campsite in Skykomish.

Prosecutors have alleged throughout the trial that Ackley wanted Jensen dead for meddling with his children and later killed Dittrick after confiding in her about the crime.

The defense argued yesterday, as it did throughout the trial, that Ackley did not kill the women.

Ellis reiterated yesterday that his client was at home playing with his dog and watering his flowers the night Jensen disappeared, and was at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe when Dittrick disappeared.

"The state says he had an opportunity to commit this crime because he was alone," Ellis said. "If being alone makes you responsible for committing a crime," we all have something to fear.

His client, he said, has been maligned by a prosecution that was determined to pin the slayings on Ackley, even though it lacked any direct evidence incriminating him.

Lawyer says Ackley cooperated

And he said the police failed to check out other evidence at the scenes of both crimes that may have changed the course of their investigation. Nonetheless, Ellis said, Ackley never stopped cooperating during the investigation.

"They asked him for the clothes he was wearing on Memorial Day (the day Jensen disappeared), (and) he said sure," Ellis told the jurors in the crowded courtroom. "When asked could they look inside his car, he agreed."

But still, Ellis said, his client remained the sole target of the investigation because he had once used disparaging words to describe Jensen, his girlfriend's mother and grandmother of his children.

"He spoke in vulgar terms about Arlene Jensen during one week," Ellis conceded to the jury, but added that when his client expressed having a change of heart about her later, the police and prosecution mocked him.

"Gary Ackley can't win," Ellis said. "Because if he says I'd rather not say anything about her, he's got something to hide, and if he says deep down inside he didn't care for her" . . . then he wanted her dead.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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