Northwest NEWS

June 29, 1998

Local News

Derailed murder trial back on track


Andrew Walgamott/staff photo

Gary Ackley is led by King County Courthouse security officers back into a courtroom after a break in his double-murder trial last week.

   by Andrew Walgamott
   Staff reporter

   SEATTLE--The trial of a suspected murderer that was derailed just hours into opening statements, started anew the next day.
   Last Thursday, King County Prosecutors and attorney's for Gary Dean Ackley began the process of picking a new jury after Judge Norma Huggins had declared a mistrial the day before.
   Selection of 12 jurors and four alternates was expected to continue into this week with opening statements beginning again in July.
   Ackley, 28, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Arlene Jensen, his girlfriend's mother, and first-degree aggravated murder in the death of Stephanie Dittrick, a childhood friend.
   The mistrial came last Wednesday afternoon after Attorney Jeff Ellis argued that statements Deputy Prosecutor Roger Davidheiser was making violated Ackley's fifth amendment rights.
   "Our concern is that the comments draw the juries attention to Ackley's right to silence," Ellis said. He said that Davidheiser's statements that the only people who knew how Dittrick died were the deceased or Ackley were comments on that right.
   Davidheiser's made five remarks that drew Ellis' attention. On one occasion he said of Ackley's alleged connection to Jensen's murder, "The defendant may or may not tell you his story of murder that evening."
   Ellis said that Davidheiser was implying that if Ackley weren't to take the stand, it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.
   Huggins agreed with the defense. "The court, nor the defense nor the prosecutors can comment on the defendant's right to remain silent," she said in declaring a mistrial.
   During jury instruction, Huggins had told the 12-member jury and four alternates not to take the defendant's silence as guilt or innocence.
   Still, Huggins' decision sent Jensen's daughter-in-law running from the courtroom with tears in her eyes. Ricardo Lopez, Arlene's nephew, cursed the justice system, and said, "Everybody gets their due before they go."
   But after Davidheiser's motion to reconsider was denied, both sides agreed to start over.
   During his opening statements last week, Davidheiser outlined a compelling tale about the murders of both Jensen, who was Ackley's girlfriend's mother and Dittrick, a childhood friend.
   "It's the story of a man's hate, anger, paranoia, indiscretion and ultimately his fear," he said.
   But lacking knowledge of how Ackley actually murdered both victims, he said the evidence that the defendant left behind would link him to both women.
   Davidheiser drew a picture of a drug-abusing machinist who believed that Jensen was going to take his and Julie Jensen's two small children away from him.
   Arlene disappeared May 26, 1997. Her body was found a mile away in a marshy area a month later. Fibers found in Jensen's home, in Ackley's car and on a coat link the defendant to the victim, Davidheiser said.
   He said Ackley found someone to confide in with Dittrick, and that a witness would tell the jury that both were seen together July 5 near where her body was found the next month.
   He said the jury would hear from David Jensen, Arlene's son, Alice Vermillion, her mother, friends of Arlene, Dianna Russell, Dittrick's mother, friends and coworkers of Ackley, teenage boys at a party Dittrick threw as well as state forensic specialists.