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The conversation that cracked a 'cold case'

  • Detective Jim Scharf talks to the media in 2011 about developments in two cold cases involving missing woman Tracey Brazzel and murder victim Patti Be...

    Herald file 2011

    Detective Jim Scharf talks to the media in 2011 about developments in two cold cases involving missing woman Tracey Brazzel and murder victim Patti Berry.

  • Danny Giles waits Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court to hear his sentence for the 1995 murder of Patti Berry. 

Photo taken 11052014

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Danny Giles waits Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court to hear his sentence for the 1995 murder of Patti Berry. Photo taken 11052014

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By Scott North
Herald Writer
@snorthnews
Published:
  • Detective Jim Scharf talks to the media in 2011 about developments in two cold cases involving missing woman Tracey Brazzel and murder victim Patti Be...

    Herald file 2011

    Detective Jim Scharf talks to the media in 2011 about developments in two cold cases involving missing woman Tracey Brazzel and murder victim Patti Berry.

  • Danny Giles waits Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court to hear his sentence for the 1995 murder of Patti Berry. 

Photo taken 11052014

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Danny Giles waits Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court to hear his sentence for the 1995 murder of Patti Berry. Photo taken 11052014

EVERETT — Jim Scharf was ready.
For three years he'd been digging into Danny Giles' life.
He knew the longtime sex offender was fond of working out, playing chess and watching NASCAR. He knew Giles' criminal compulsions had earned him a series of prison jolts. A 1987 rape. A string of risky thefts. An enduring penchant for prowling around, seeking opportunities to spy on naked women and girls.
Tests had turned up Giles' DNA on the steering wheel of the car where Patti Berry was stabbed to death in 1995. It was a strong lead in the cold-case investigation. Still, Scharf knew it wasn't enough.
On that day in May 2011, the Snohomish County sheriff's detective needed the murder suspect to talk.
“That was my biggest fear,” Scharf said. “If he wouldn't have talked to me I don't think the case would have gone anywhere.”
Giles was sentenced Wednesday to 47.5 years in prison for Berry's first-degree murder. He's 46. Barring a successful appeal, that means he likely will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He became a suspect in 2008 because of DNA testing that wasn't available at the time of Berry's murder — forensic science so advanced that it could make sense of tiny bits of genetic material left by a smear of sweat, a sneeze or the touch of fingertips.
Jurors told prosecutors and others the DNA evidence was important to their verdict. It showed Giles was in Berry's car and he likely touched the hems of her jeans. The killer had left Berry nude below the waist after dumping her body in a patch of woods south of the Everett Mall.
But what Giles told Scharf, particularly his efforts to distance himself, also resonated with jurors, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said.
“Danny's statements were pretty key,” Matheson said.
Ready to talk
Scharf and another detective left Snohomish County well before dawn on May 11, 2011. They had a 145-mile drive to Stafford Creek Corrections Center west of Aberdeen on the Washington Coast.
Over the years, Giles repeatedly had refused sex offender treatment. In 2011, he was serving time for exposing himself six years earlier to young women in Seattle's University District.
Prison officials knew about the planned visit.
Scharf brought a couple of decks of cold-case playing cards. Each card contained information about an unsolved murder or missing person case here. Giles thumbed through the deck as he spoke with detectives.
There were two cases they wanted to ask him about: Berry's killing and the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel earlier that same year. Tests of a blood-like spot on Brazzel's car also allegedly had turned up Giles' DNA. All the results were then closely held secrets.
Prior to the Stafford Creek trip, Scharf tracked down ex cellmates and others who knew Giles in the mid 1990s. He knew where Giles had lived south of Everett, where he'd gone to school, where he worked, when he'd encountered police and how he spent his time between incarcerations.
He even knew what snacks Giles favored and brought them along.
Although in prison, Giles didn't have to speak with Scharf. Prosecutors told the detective it was important that Giles understood he had the same rights as anyone else. He could halt the interview at any time and return to his cell. As later happened in the case, the conversation was scrutinized to make sure Giles understood his rights and could exercise them.
Before the trip, Scharf consulted with experts from the FBI. They predicted Giles would talk. He always had before when confronted by the cops.
Scharf also conferred with Chuck Wright, a retired state community corrections officer and mental health professional from Mill Creek who volunteers with the cold-case team. Wright spent his career keeping tabs on sex offenders just like Giles.
“He and I had lots of conversations on how best to approach him, what not to do,” Scharf said.
Scharf told Giles the detectives were working some unsolved cases and were talking with people they knew had been in the community at the time. Maybe he knew something important and didn't realize it?
Giles agreed to talk. Jurors in his trial later heard an edited version of that discussion — one that eliminated all mention of the Brazzel case, which will be the focus of a separate trial.
It wasn't a TV-style interrogation. Instead, Scharf respectfully asked Giles for a lot of seemingly unimportant information: where he was born; where he went to school; the places he had lived and with whom; his girlfriends and buddies.
The detective was friendly, his questions testing whether Giles would be truthful about the easy stuff. “It didn't take him long and he was calling me ‘Jim,'” he said.
Berry had been a nude dancer at Honey's, a nightclub that used to operate along Highway 99. She was killed on her way home from work.
Scharf told Giles a whopper. He claimed that the dancers remembered Giles.
That couldn't have been true, Giles said. He'd been to Honey's, but only a couple of times.
Scharf: “Well, they're telling us they remember this big buff guy that came in that was handsome and, you know, they remembered it was you ...”
“Oh,” Giles said.
Giles recalled newspaper coverage of the Berry case and a segment on “Washington's Most Wanted.” He claimed to have been particularly struck listening to Berry's mother describe her loss.
Had he ever dated Berry or other dancers?
Nope, Giles said.
Giles talked about the jobs he'd held, including the time he worked for an Everett-area landscaping company. He rambled on about his love for riding bicycles and his regrets over dropping out of high school.
At one point, Giles told the detective he thought he looked familiar. Scharf said he'd been on “Washington's Most Wanted.”
“Yeah, I've seen you on that show before,” Giles said. Then he asked Scharf about a newspaper story he'd read. Wasn't the detective about to retire?
No, that was another Jim Scharf. Giles was thinking of the former Everett police chief.
A fire alarm sounded in the prison. The interview was cut short. The detectives would have to come back another day.
It was only later that Scharf realized what Giles had revealed. While Scharf was investigating him, Giles was keeping close tabs on the Berry case, including looking for news about the lead detective.
“This guy shouldn't have a clue as to who I am at all,” Scharf said.
Digging deeper
Round Two came May 17, 2011. Another trip to Stafford Creek. Giles still was willing to talk.
He met detectives in the same interview room. As earlier, Giles sat closest to the door. He understood he was free to leave and didn't have to answer questions.
Giles said he'd been thinking about Scharf's claim that Honey's dancers remembered him. Somebody was lying, he said, the dancers or the detective.
Scharf let that pass. He asked more questions, his tone neutral. Had Giles ever paid for sex? Did he cheat on his girlfriends? Had he ever been to the Jungle, the name some used in the mid-1990s to refer to the apartments south of the mall where Berry's body was found?
No on all counts.
As jurors later learned, Giles had worked for a landscaping crew that mowed lawns and weeded the Jungle's flower beds on a weekly basis. He also was a regular at Kodiak Ron's, a tavern that in 1995 was in the same parking lot where Berry was last seen alive.
More questions, seemingly without order. More random musing from Giles. He wanted to talk about his love for the fairgrounds at Monroe. He had a story about a waitress he'd once hoped to date. He spoke of a long-ago dream to become a motorcycle cop.
As he talked with Giles, Scharf was ticking through a list of questions. Satisfied he'd asked about all the people and places that needed to be covered, he moved on to the DNA.
He got Giles to admit he'd been at the car wash where Berry's blood-spattered car had been found.
Did he ever find bloody clothing there? How about the car? If so, did he climb into it?
“No,” Giles said. “I think I would remember if I did.”
So you don't remember the bloody car or the bloody clothes?
Nope.
“Well, that's kind of odd, Dan, because your DNA was found there at that crime scene,” Scharf told Giles.
Giles stammered, surprised. Maybe he had been in that car.
“Yeah? Well you told us that you'd never been in that car before,” Scharf replied.
“No, not that I recall. And uh, not this, not this many years ago,” Giles said. “How the hell am I gonna remember that many years ago?”
Giles could see where this was headed. He denied any involvement in Berry's killing.
“So you're telling us that you didn't kill Patti Berry?”
“No! Absolutely not,” Giles said. DNA in the car proves nothing.
So explain the DNA on Berry's clothing, Scharf said.
Well, if he had sex with somebody, wouldn't his DNA be on her clothing, Giles replied.
“Are you saying you might have had sex with Patti Berry?” Scharf asked.
“It's possible.”
OK, when and where?
“I don't know,” Giles said. He sighed. “You know, you're asking questions I don't have the answers to.”
“Right,” Scharf said. “Because you're the person that killed her.”
“I mean, how can you even say that?” Giles replied.
Scharf didn't get a confession, but he left the prison that day confident that Giles still had talked himself into a heap of trouble.
>> Audio: Hear a recording of a portion of the May 17, 2011, interview between Snohomish County sheriff's detective Jim Scharf and Danny Giles, regarding DNA evidence in the 1995 Patti Berry murder.
Tape doesn't lie
At his sentencing last week, Giles claimed that he'd asked to have an attorney present before being questioned by Scharf, despite recordings to the contrary. He said the detective had lied and his lawyers had failed him by not fighting to prove him right.
Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss was unmoved. He told Giles his statements about Scharf and the lawyers were “tactical,” and made with an eye on trying to improve his chances on appeal. Giles was just as calculated when the detective showed up in 2011 with questions about Berry's murder, the judge said.
Even with time off for good behavior, the sentence Weiss imposed should keep Giles locked up into his 80s.
Meanwhile, prosecutors are gearing up for an April trial on the Brazzel murder charge. Her body has never been found. Giles has remained steadfast in denying involvement.
Deputy prosecutor Matheson told jurors in the Berry trial that science and persistence had identified her killer, a man who for too long had gone unpunished, unnamed. His nature was revealed.
“This guy is a predator,” Matheson said.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews
Story tags » EverettHomicide

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