Everyone involved in the Lewis County drug world during the 1980s knew that the Riffe brothers were responsible for the murders of Ed and Minnie Maurin, former drug-dealer Donald Burgess told the jury Wednesday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court.
Burgess, who was the 76th witness to testify in the murder trial against Rick Riffe, testified that word had gotten around the drug dealers in the area about the Riffe brothers being involved in the slayings of the Ethel couple.
"The drug world knew the Riffes were responsible," he said.
Burgess, who described himself as a significant drug dealer of pot, meth and cocaine during the mid-80s, said he and Rick Riffe had a "drug-related relationship."
A few days after the Christmas-time slayings, Burgess said, Riffe and another drug-dealing friend came to his house.
Burgess told the jury that out of fear, he did not want either Riffe brother at his house, partially due to the "heat" from the police, and told his friend to make Rick leave.
Rick then scoffed, and said something about how they were going to get away with it, Burgess said.
Though Rick did not specifically mention the murders, it was clear what was being referred to, Burgess told the jury.
Even though law enforcement approached the former drug dealer more than a half-dozen times throughout the years asking if he knew any information about the homicides, he did not say anything until 2012, after Riffe was arrested.
"I was scared," he said. "I was scared for my family and my kids. I didn't want to end up the same way (the Maurins) did."
During cross examination, John Crowley, Rick Riffe's defense attorney, insinuated in his questioning that perhaps there was another factor in Burgess' 2012 decision to cooperate with police: Laura L. Hickey, his stepdaughter, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she cut her premature baby's head off after giving birth to it in a toilet in a Centralia trailer park. Hickey was reportedly high on meth at the time.
At the mention of Hickey's name, Burgess told Crowley he was done, and attempted to stand up from the witness stand.
Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead objected to the defense attorney's line of questioning, and Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey sent the jury out of the courtroom so the attorneys could argue.
"It's our position, that after this trial is over, (Burgess) will approach the prosecution and try and get lower sentence (for Hickey)," Crowley told the judge.
As he spoke, Burgess glared at Crowley from the witness stand and Halstead and Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer shook their heads in disagreement.
Halstead said the allegation was ridiculous, outrageous and an obvious "media play," adding that prosecutors have no control over a prison sentence once it's set by a judge. The deputy prosecutor also alleged Crowley's only motivation was to upset Burgess, who was already in very poor health.
"It's obvious Mr. Burgess is suffering right now," Halstead said.
Last year, Brosey ordered that the attorneys do a witness deposition of Burgess, which is an oral testimony done out of court to preserve his statements in the case, because prosecutors were fearful he would not survive until trial. Burgess died three times during a heart attack in August 2012, and underwent a major heart surgery the following October.
On Wednesday, Burgess slowly walked up to the witness stand holding a small, portable oxygen tank. While on the stand he breathed heavily, and his testimony was punctured frequently by coughs. He told the jury he suffered from heart and lung disease.
Crowley said the circumstance of Burgess' 2012 admission was "suspicious," but did not have any other evidence to suggest the truthfulness behind his allegation. Brosey ordered Crowley discontinue with his line questioning.
Last year, prior to Burgess' deposition, prosecutors said Burgess would provide "damning evidence" against Rick Riffe. Crowley, on the other hand, described Burgess was "an admitted liar," an extortionist, a thief, and at claimed that at one point in time was the "biggest drug dealer in the county."
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