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Monday, December 17, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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And Tony Savage for the defense

Seattle Times staff reporter

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He's the tortoise in a courtroom of hares, stroking his gray beard, rocking back in his chair and often appearing to be on the edge of sleep.

While younger attorneys hammer at witnesses, tie the court into knots with objections and make jurors yawn, Anthony Savage Jr. forges links of trust between himself and the jury, say his colleagues.

He's the great-uncle you love to have over to dinner. The patient professor. The neighbor willing to lend a CD of Puccini favorites. But he's also an attorney who can leave the prosecution's star witness in shreds.

His rapport with the jury, his polished cross-examinations and the smoothness of his closing arguments often make him victorious, say those who know him. Savage, a Seattle native and defense attorney for four decades, has been hired to represent Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, charged with killing four women on the list of 49 victims of the Green River serial killer.

Savage was brought on board after Ridgway's family asked around for a good criminal defense attorney and was directed to the 71-year-old Savage, who has represented a number of defendants in high-profile cases.

Former State House Speaker John Bagnariol, indicted in an anti-gambling sting called "Gamscam" in 1981, was a client. Savage also represented David Lewis Rice, who killed the Goldmark family in 1985. He was the trial attorney for triple murderer Charles Campbell, who was executed in 1994.

They all were found guilty, but victory, defense attorneys say, does not always mean an acquittal. It can mean getting a charge reduced or presenting the best case possible against an overwhelming amount of evidence.

Attorney John Hicks, who has worked with Savage on several cases, was co-counsel with him in the 1992 Jeff Foxx aggravated-murder case. Foxx, then 17, had killed his girlfriend and three other people.

Life rather than death

"It was a heart-breaking case ... and a potential death-penalty case,'' Hicks said. Instead of being found guilty of four counts of aggravated murder as charged, Foxx was found guilty of one count of aggravated murder and three counts of lesser second-degree murder.

Savage and Hicks also presented enough information on Foxx's background to persuade jurors to sentence him to prison for life, rather than death.

More recently, Savage represented former Seattle police Detective Earl "Sonny" Davis on theft charges, going up against senior Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman, who will work with senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird on the Ridgway case.

Davis, accused of taking $10,000 from a crime scene, was tried twice, but both trials ended in hung juries. Prosecutors decided against a third trial. Savage, who expects to be joined by four other lawyers in the Ridgway case "is an excellent defense attorney," said Dave Boerner, a former King County chief criminal prosecutor. "My last case, before I quit to begin teaching, I had against Tony. And Tony won," Boerner said.

The son of a lawyer, Savage grew up in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, graduated from Roosevelt High School and went to law school at the University of Washington. He was admitted to the bar in 1955.

Early in his career, he was a prosecutor. Then he went into private practice, which evolved into criminal defense.

Many attorneys don't want the high-profile cases because they don't like the publicity or the public outrage that goes with them, said Bill Fligeltaub, former board member of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Fligeltaub nominated Savage for the prestigious 1998 William O. Douglas Award "for extraordinary courage and dedication to the practice of law."

Savage says he got the award only because he has been around so long.

Fligeltaub disagrees: "He got that because he earned it. It's based on taking the difficult cases and recognizing the importance of representing anyone regardless of the facts and the public outcry."

Savage says he has never had a client without some redeeming qualities.

He said he has met with Ridgway only a few times and that the Auburn man seems like a forthright, regular guy.

No maniacal gleam

"He's not loud," Savage said. "He doesn't run around with a maniacal gleam in his eye or glow green in the dark or froth at the mouth. If he sat next to you in a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice him."

Savage, once a tall, big bear of a man but now just tall and rather lanky, acknowledges that some criminal defenses are difficult to handle emotionally, especially when children are among the victims, as in the Goldmark case.

On Christmas Eve 1985, David Lewis Rice fatally beat and stabbed Charles and Annie Goldmark and the couple's two sons, Derek, 12, and Colin, 10, in the family's Madrona home.

After years of appeals, Rice eventually pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Savage defended him at trial.

Savage said he copes by focusing not on "moral guilt" but legal innocence.

A defendant may be morally guilty of a crime, he explains, but as defense attorneys, "We don't deal in moral guilt. The good Lord can take care of that on Judgment Day. All we deal with is legal guilt. And he's innocent until he is found to be guilty by a jury of his peers."

Savage says his clients are no different than anyone else. "We're all human," he said. "Some have just started down the wrong path."

Savage had his own brush with the law. In the 1970s, he spent a month in jail for failing to file federal income taxes.

Savage's office is a short walk from the courthouse in the venerable Broderick Building on Second Avenue. The office is cluttered with award plaques, a ceramic hippo created by his late wife, and a moose head, a gift from retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Durham "because I always wanted one," Savage says.

Maintaining a sense of humor is vital even in the most dire circumstances, he says. Then he talks about the common thread he has found in all clients guilty of atrocious crimes: childhood abuse.

"It's enough to make me weep," he said.

Nancy Bartley can be reached at 206-464-8522.

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