Killer Robert L. Yates, Jr.
middle-aged father of 5, Robert
L. Yates Jr., a decorated military helicopter pilot, and National
Guardsman was convicted of 15 murders but suspected of as many
as 18. The most prolific serial killer ever sentenced in Washington
state, he now sits on death row.
from a solid, loving home with encouraging Support , a moral upbringing
and Christian teaching from the time he could walk. He was an
obedient child, a dedicated student, and a team player on the
Oak Harbor High School football team.
was a car buff frequently seen washing the Corvette and his other
liked to cruise through the red-light district in a white Corvette,
where the Army veteran murdered women 8 of at least 13 of his
state prosecutors suspect Yates is responsible for the slayings
of as many as 18 women, many with a history of drug abuse and
prostitution. Victims were shot in the head. The first body was
found Feb. 22, 1990, and the killings continued for a decade.
is a loving, caring and sensitive son, a fun-loving and giving
brother, an understanding, generous and dedicated father, who
enjoys playing ball, fishing and camping with his kids," the three-paragraph
statement said. "We feel deeply for the families who have experienced
loss," the statement said. "We ask that all judgments be reserved
until the timely due process of law has been completed."
Signed "the Robert L. Yates family members."
Yates, 50, pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of one woman
and the killing 10 other women in Spokane County from 1996 to
1998. He's also admitted to two slayings in Walla Walla in 1975
and the killing of a woman whose body was found in 1988, in Skagit
County. A judge sentenced him to 408 years in prison.
County prosecutors then brought Yates to Tacoma to be tried on
the aggravated murders of Connie LaFontaine Ellis and Melinda
the 5 1/2-week trial, prosecutors told jurors this was Yates "his
evil hobby." He killed for thrill of it and because he enjoyed
sex with his dead victims. The death penalty was sought in this
Robert Lee Yates Sr.
talked about his and his wife's joy at their son's birth, and
his pride as Yates became a boy who never "sassed" him
and always obeyed. Yates
played baseball and football, and fished and hiked with his father.
Attorneys showed photos
of Yates as a baby, in a tiny suit, with his little sister, and
through the years in a military uniform and later with his children.
The elder Yates acknowledged
that his son didn't confide in him and that he married his second
wife before divorcing his first.
Recently, Yates Sr.
said, his son has returned to his Seventh-day Adventist faith.
"He fell away
from God," the father said. "He went to the depths.
But he's come back, and I really feel it's sincere." Crying,
he continued, "I love him so much, and I've told him a good
many times. I abhor what he's done, but I love him just the same."
cried during his father's testimony and when his victims' parents
described their pain.
LaFontaine Ellis and Melinda Mercer
Mercer's mother, Karyl Bushell, recalled her oldest daughter as
a child who loved anything extravagant and funny. "She loved
to dance," Bushell said, in tears. "She loved children.
She loved people." She avidly hiked, skied and skated.
youth, Mercer spent her teen years in foster care but was at her
mother's house for her birthday and holidays. She earned a GED,
learned to hang drywall and had worked as a waitress in Seattle.
In 1997, when she became
aware of her daughters heroin addiction, Bushell found a hospital
where she could receive drug treatment, but she didn't showed
Two months before her
murder, she asked if she could move back home with her family
in Centralia. Bushell declined out of fear her drug use would
affect the other children in the home.
"She wanted to
come home, and I told her she couldn't," Bushell said, crying
hard. "I told her she had to start helping herself before
I could help her anymore. She
said, 'Mom, you're supposed to love me,'" said Bushell. "I
said, 'I do love you, but you have to help yourself.'"
Emil LaFontaine of
North Dakota called his daughter, Connie LaFontaine Ellis, a strong,
independent girl who inspired his pride. She had
5 siblings and step-siblings, moved from the Chippewa reservation
where her father lived to Spokane to be with her mother.
At 17, she had her
first child, Angel, later, she gave birth to 2 sons. The first
son died in infancy. She married and moved to Tacoma. In 1996,
her youngest son, Randy, couldn't get a transplant in time and
died of heart problems.
"That was one of the main factors in the way she continued
her life," LaFontaine said. "Connie was devastated by
She tried numerous
times to beat a heroin addiction. She was working on the streets
when Yates killed her, in September 1998. Her death hurt her daughter
the hardest, LaFontaine said.
LaFontaine cried reading
from a statement he wrote about his daughter/
"Connie gave me
strength and opened my life," he read. "I could not
have asked for more. No wonder an eagle came down above her as
she was buried, and came to hover over my own."
to reading the death sentence, Yates' attorneys moved for a retrial,
saying prosecutors erred in the penalty phase closing arguments
by making "passionate and prejudicial" statements to the jury.
Defense attorneys also felt jurors committed misconduct by considering
more evidence than allowed in sentencing, such as contemplating
if Yates had undiscovered victims, as they reported to the media
afterwards. Pierce County Judge John McCarthy rejected the arguments.
sentenced Yates to death after it convicted him of the aggravated
murders of Connie LaFontaine Ellis and Melinda Mercer. Both bodies
were found near Fort Lewis, where Yates served as a helicopter
pilot in the Washington National Guard.
to thank the court for the courtesy accorded me and the professionalism
shown me," Yates said quietly while looking down.
text of Robert Yates' statement to jury
this statement so that I might leave nothing in my heart that
needs to be said.
To all my
victims' families, to my family and to the people in the community,
to the families of Melinda Mercer and Connie LaFontanie Ellis,
I know you are suffering great anguish. I find no words to comfort
you, to explain, justify or soften all the evil, pain, separation
and death that I've caused.
are inexpressible and inexplicable in terms of human language.
The world is a frightening place, and I've made it more so for
many. I've caused so much pain and devastation.
of people are hurting and grieving because of my acts. I let
sin enter my life. I let it grow and mature until it wrought
its direct consequence: death. The wages of sin bring death.
Sin and wrongdoing may start small but if left unchecked, they
grow into something ugly. I believe that (unintelligible), in
and of itself, sin blinds us. It blinded me.
I've had no power to defeat this full-blown sinful nature. There
were times – long periods – when in between my horrific
crimes, there were periods of relative calm. Nothing evil happened.
But that sinful nature, which wrought so much recent violence,
never really left.
says the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure;
who can understand? Our hearts can be deceitful beyond our own
understanding, and surely mine was. I couldn't rid myself of
this sinful nature. Somewhere, through all this devastation,
God was knocking on the door of my heart, but I wouldn't let
him in. I thought to myself, how could a God love or hear anything
that was not clean. I thought I wasn't good enough to even speak
to God, and if He wouldn't listen to me, then who would?
guilt was like a disease eating away at my soul. I couldn't share
that with anyone else. Sin and guilt gnaws at our mind and causes
acid to build up in our stomachs. We've all had guilt at some
times in our lives. My sin and my guilt was overwhelming. It became
hard to live with myself.
have ever felt the guilt I have from all the horror I've brought
into your lives. I tried to cleanse myself from that guilt through
denial. That only resulted in making things worse.
lived a double life. I stayed in denial – denial of my needs,
denial that someone, somewhere could help me. Through my denial,
because I couldn't face the truth, I thought I could be self-correcting,
that if I kept it all to myself, someday it would all go away.
That's denial. By my denial, I blinded myself to the truth –
the truth that no one is so alone in this world as a denier of
God. But that was me, alone and in denial.
my arrest in Spokane in April of 2000, for a couple of weeks
I persisted. I remained in denial. In May of 2000, as I started
to read the word of God for the first time in over 25 years,
I began to understand that someone had seen all the hideous
crimes I've committed. Someone else had been there the whole
time, watching each of my victims die.
seen it all.
was like slamming into a brick wall at 100 miles an hour. It
was like standing naked and ugly before the whole world. It
was looking at all the ugliness inside me and exposing it for
what it really was.
So the best
thing that could ever have happened that April was for me to
be arrested and brought to account for my actions. God had seen
it all. The public and the families had seen and felt the loss
and the death and the hurt caused by my actions. Now it was
time for Robert Yates to open his eyes and see all that, too.
impossible to be in denial any longer. It was time to face the
truth. When sin has deadened moral perception, the wrongdoer
does not discern the defects of his character or realize the
enormity of the evil he has committed. For once I listened when
spirit working through the human agencies of law enforcement
and our justice system woke me out of my spiritual blindness,
I couldn't see the enormous devastation I had created, the tremendous
pain and suffering I had caused. Until I came back to the love
of God in Jesus Christ, I could not turn aside from my sinful
nature, for the mind of the sinful man – and that was me
– brings death. The mind of the man controlled by the Spirit
brings life and peace. Someone needed to open my eyes.
So I turned
to God. Until I turned to faith, though before in death, I saw
I couldn't face the truth that finally God was bringing me to
account. It was me.
felt some of that out in Riverside. God already did it. I had
to confess to him so I could admit to myself the enormity of
my evil, that I needed to tell someone else who would listen
and not condemn. After that I stopped the denial, stopped trying
to hide the truth from my attorneys in Spokane. I told them
all about my crimes stretching back all the way to 1975. That
was the right way – the only way back to God.
a long road back. One doesn't fall into such a deep morass of
evil and climb back out in one day. Hearing the heartbreaking
testimonies of all the mothers, wives, sisters, brothers and
children of the lost family members I've taken from them burdens
me with the incalculable loss of the unending grief and the
harm that I've brought to hundreds of people. I'm so very, very
If God is
the creator of this universe, then there are no unimportant
people, and I took the lives of these loving, wonderful, important
people from you. I feel your hurt every day and it won't go
away. It never will. I've devastated your hopes and dreams.
I've left you with only photographs and memories instead of
warm family gatherings, cherished hugs and future happiness.
The opportunity to say farewell or clear up misunderstandings
was not afforded you.
squeeze back tears. Tears are part of the adjustments. Tears
are jewels of remembrance, painful but glistening with the beauty
of your children – children God loved so much. Children
that are, as the Bible says, asleep, waiting the day when they
will be called forth to be reunited with you. Please trust in
that blessed hope. God is not so far from you that he is not
touched by your tears. All of heaven shares your sorrow.
with all my heart that there is a huge battle being waged between
good and evil in this world, a spiritual battle that has allowed
tragedy in this case, unexplainable evil to step forward. Why
has all this evil been allowed to exist in the world? Some day
God will show us. So that's why we have to trust that some day
our God, who's absolutely pure, will end this struggle. When
He does, the Bible promises that the old order of things will
have passed away. There will be no more death or mourning or
crying or pain, only the happiness and joy you long for so much
this day. That's a promise from God.
I have said here today will justify or excuse my wrongs or even
make sense of them. My compassion goes out to all I've hurt.
There's absolutely no excuse that anyone could ever offer for
the depths of pain in this room and in the lives of every person
I've touched and all the tragedy I've wrought. There are so
many innocent victims in all of this – families, friends
and communities, my family, who had nothing to do with any of
this. I'm so very, very sorry for what has happened. I and they
can offer no justification for any of it. We do offer you all
our sympathies and our prayers.
inadequate words for me to express my guilt, my shame and my
sorrow for having devastated you in taking away the wonderful
people, the wonderful, loving people, the warm human beings
you cared for so much. It's my prayer that you will look to
God to help fill the hollow I've left in your hearts.
is in His hands. I share your grief and always will. I'm sorry
beyond what words can say. I apologize to all of you, and I
thank the court for allowing me to speak.
then told him that this case affected the families of the victims,
Yates' own family, the attorneys, police, jurors and courtroom
is a very heavy burden you put them through," he said.
believe you have remorse and a sense of sorrow and loss," McCarthy
quietly told Yates. "I hope your conversion to religion is indeed
sincere. Only you and God can confirm the validity of that."
family says he is at peace with the decision, his attorney, Roger
Hunko, said Yates will fight execution. Not doing so would be
akin to suicide, which under Yates' Christian faith would be an
unforgivable sin, Hunko said.
Appeals Process Yates Has Available
appeal is a mandatory "direct review" by the Washington State
Supreme Court. To review issues the defendant raises about the
trial, evidence, judge's rulings or jury instructions. - Then
a "proportionality review" to make sure the case is in line with
other death penalty cases. If the court affirms the sentence,
the defendant would next appeal to the US Supreme Court, which
may refuse to hear the case.
appeal is a "personal restraint petition" filed with the state
Supreme Court. The defendant argues issues such as ineffective
defense attorneys, jury selection or jury misconduct. This decision
can be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
appeal is a "habeas corpus" petition, filed in federal district
court and assigned to a randomly selected judge. Unlike state
appeals courts, district court holds its own hearings to resolve
defendant can appeal to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in
San Francisco, before a 3 judge panel. The 9th US Circuit Court
of Appeals covers 9 Western states, including Washington, have
overturned 10 death sentences since 1982 and 6 convictions underlying
death sentences since 1994. Some cases are still on appeal.
panel affirms the death sentence, the defendant can either try
to get an 11-judge panel to consider the appeal or appeal directly
to the US Supreme Court. Neither the 11-judge panel or the US
Supreme Court have to accept the case.
usually cannot argue anything in federal courts that was not argued
in state courts.
joins 9 men on Washington's death row at the Walla Walla penitentiary.
Hunt for a Serial Killer -- In August of 1997, in Spokane, Washington,
the bodies of 2 young women were found on the same day. As police
looked at similar unsolved murders, they discovered these women
were prostitutes who worked in the Skid Row of Spokane. All of the
bodies had a plastic bag tied around the head.
Depth: Robert Yates Maps, victim photos, timeline of the killings,
video interview with a prostitute who knew him for 2 years and related
of Yates --The 47 year-old Spokane, WA resident, employed as
a replacement worker at Kaiser Mead, as a strikebreaker after workers
walked off the job.
L. Yates Jr. -- Plead guilty to 13 murders. The Army veteran
and helicopter pilot also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted
murder to escape the death penalty.
Connect Nine Victims -- Spokane County Sheriff's office confirmed
a list of at least nine women they believe to be Yates' victims
- 8 from the Spokane area and 1 from the Tacoma area.
Lee Yates, Jr. sentenced to more than 400 years in prison --
Detectives in Spokane accomplished what Green River investigators
could never do: arrest a suspect and get convictions.
Key Evidence -- Yates was a car buff frequently seen washing
the Corvette and his other vehicles. A middle-aged father of 5,
liked to cruise through the red-light district in a white Corvette.
Tacoma Trial Coverage
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