Renton High School Centennial: Mark Prothero, Class of '74

Renton High School graduate Mark Prothero was the lead defense attorney for the country's most notorious serial-killer, Gary Ridgway.

In the weeks leading up to the Renton High School Centennial, Renton Patch will profile of prominent  graduates. Our first feature is Mark Prothero, Class of 1974.

Mark Prothero has been a community advocate, qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim trials, and was the lead defense attorney in the case against Gary Ridgway, one of the country's—and certainly Washington state's—most notorious serial killer.

Prothero's biography is impressive. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of Washington (1978), his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law (1981), and is on the Supreme Court Capital Counsel Panel for Trial Attorneys.

Currently, Prothero is with the law firm Hanis Irvine Prothero based in Kent, where he lives with his wife, Kelly. Prothero has two children, Sean and Marley.

Is Prothero one of those students that looks back fondly to his high school days, or is he one of those people that would rather leave those days a distant memory? He liked it there, he said.

He made a name for himself as a swimmer at RHS. In fact, his 500-yard freestyle record still stands 35 years after his graduation.

Prothero grew up in the Lakeridge neighborhood of Renton, where his mom still lives. He hopes to be able to attend some of the RHS Centennial activities, where he will be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame.

Of course, Prothero is best known for defending Gary Ridgway, the Green River serial killer, who murdered over 50 women (or considerably more, which we may never know). Prothero's book, "Defending Gary," chronicles his experiences defending Ridgway,  in which Ridgway himself was used as a source for the book.

Prothero first learned that the Green River killer had been caught on a Friday afternoon in November of 2001 when he was coaching a Kent swim team. A colleague came into the swim team practice (where his son was practicing) with the news that 'a truck painter from Auburn' had been arrested and predicted, "I'll bet you are going to get the case, Mark."

"Because I was the 'DNA' guy at the time," Prothero said, and this case was likely to be based on DNA evidence because the killings had happened long ago, they assigned him the case.

Prothero was responsible for the penalty phase of the Ridgway trial. But even during the first 18 months of the case, long before Ridgway admitted any guilt, Prothero began befriending Ridgway by simply talking with him, gaining his confidence and getting to know him as a person. Prothero knew that later Ridgway would be able to trust him with life and death decisions.

Some of the early conversations with Ridgway included talking with him about the Seahawks, Prothero's swim meets, and family life.

Not once, in all the times that Prothero spoke with Ridgway, did the serial killer demonstrate any anger. His demeanor was, and continues to be unusual. When he speaks with someone, Prothero said, Ridgeway almost "parrots" what's been said said to him. He has an uncanny ability to modify what he says based upon the person he is talking to, including Prothero's law partner and others that worked on the case. This is a tactic Ridgway certainly used in wooing his victims into his vehicle, Prothero said.

Long before defending Ridgway, Prothero attended Death Penalty College, in Santa Clara, Calif., in preparation for defending another death penalty case. He is firmly against the death penalty, and believes that Ridgway is suffering far more by serving the rest of his days in solitary confinement.

When asked how he reconciles emotions about defending a killer, Prothero explains that it is the way the justice system works. "We have to have effective people to defend people accused of a crime," he said.

Prothero and Ridgway were in the news again recently, when remains from a victim were uncovered. Prothero was contacted by the King County public defenders office to ask if he would continue to represent Ridgway, which he did—for the same rate as an entry-level public defender. He travelled to Walla Walla several times to interview Ridgway, and spent time with him in court. Ridgway remains remarkably unchanged by the years in solitary confinement, he said.

Swimming has been a part of Prothero's life since Renton High. In addition to qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials at the age of 20, he swam for the University of Washington and was a representative for the U.S. at several international swimming competitions.

For many years, Prothero was a swim coach at Kentwood High School, where he coached several champions, and was a coach for 14 years at Kent Swim and Tennis Club where his team won seven league championships.

On Prothero's resume he lists side by side his award from the King County Bar Association "Co-Lawyer of the Year" with his award from the Washington Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association "4A Girls High School Coach of the Year."

Swimming remains near and dear to Prothero's heart. He was a co-founder of Kent Citizens for Water Safety Organization, which helped to successfully save the Kent Meridian pool. He's monitoring the similar situation that and would love to see Renton, Kent and Covington build an aquatic center.

Prothero serves on the Kent Parks Foundation, the Husky Swim Foundation, and ACA Board of Public Defenders. The Kent Parks Foundation is a recipient of the proceeds of his book.

In 2010, Governor Gregoire appointed Prothero to the Washington State Forensic Council, an oversight committee for forensic labs. He was the first criminal defense attorney to be appointed to this post.

Prothero hopes to attend the RHS festivities: "It's a great old school," he said.

Renton Patch will next feature Val Caniparoli, Class of 1969, an internationally known performer, artistic director, and choreographer.

Linda Middlebrooks June 15, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Mark was also the coach of our kids at the little community Lakeridge Swim Club. I have very fond memories of his coaching the little kids. A great thing to watch as he coached 4 and 5 year olds as well as high school kids! Linda Middlebrooks


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