Former Chelan County prosecutor Gary Riesen found dead in apparent suicide

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EAST WENATCHEE — Investigators and colleagues say Gary Riesen, who served as Chelan County’s elected prosecuting attorney for 27 years and presided over a number of high-profile cases throughout his career, died Friday from suicide.

Riesen was found by passersby about 12:28 p.m. along lower Blue Grade Road just outside East Wenatchee, dead of a gunshot wound next to his parked vehicle, Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris said Monday. He was 70 years old. The firearm apparently used in the suicide was also found, Morris said.

“I can tell you the prosecutor community is devastated,” said Douglas County Prosecutor Gordon Edgar, who worked as one of Riesen’s deputies from 1993 to 1995. Edgar also serves as Douglas County’s coroner, and was called to the scene when Riesen’s body was discovered.

“He was a great person and a great prosecutor,” Edgar said. “I worked with him for two years and they were the best two years of my professional life. Gary always treated everybody kindly and fairly.”

Riesen was appointed Chelan County chief prosecutor in 1985. He led the office until his retirement in 2012, without ever facing an election challenge. He was succeeded by his chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Douglas Shae, who subsequently retired this year and was replaced by Robert Sealby by appointment.

Riesen, a Wenatchee native and Gonzaga Law School graduate, was first appointed to replace retiring Prosecutor Dick Whitmore, after years in private practice. Among his earliest major cases was a theft and perjury charge against Chelan County’s then-Sheriff Joe Collins, who billed both the county and the federal government for expenses during an FBI training session in Quantico, Virginia. Collins was acquitted, but later faced a recall and lost a subsequent primary.

Riesen successfully led murder cases against John Henry Casey, convicted in 1999 of murdering his wife Dr. Rosemary Casey; and José Sánchez Guillén, who killed Chelan County Sheriff’s Deputy Saúl Gallegos with his own handgun in 2004. In 2012 he negotiated a manslaughter plea from Christopher Scott Wilson in the 2010 killing of Wenatchee teenager Mackenzie Cowell.

Riesen’s office also prosecuted most of the so-called “Wenatchee sex ring” cases in the mid-1990s, in which police accused 42 Chelan and Douglas County residents of repeated and ritualistic child sex abuse. Twenty-eight people were convicted or pleaded guilty to sexual crimes against children, but were later exonerated as later investigations found police coercion of witnesses and suspects, mishandled defense cases and manufactured evidence.