YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Confessed Wash. Serial Killer Is Convicted

September 20, 2002|From Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. — Confessed serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. was convicted Thursday of aggravated first-degree murder--a verdict that could cost him his life.

After less than two days of deliberations, the Pierce County Superior Court jury found Yates' murders of two prostitutes here involved all three aggravating factors cited by prosecutors: that he robbed his victims, that he killed them to conceal other crimes and that more than two people had been killed in a common scheme.

Yates, 50 and a father of five, confessed two years ago in Spokane County to 13 murders and is serving 408 years in prison under a plea deal there that spared his life. Pierce County prosecutors refused to go along with that agreement.

Yates also admitted to the two Pierce County slayings, and his trial here centered on whether the killings met the legal definition of aggravated murder, and thus could be punishable by death.

His jury will decide whether he receives the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The penalty hearing begins Tuesday. "We look forward to the next phase," said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jerry Costello. "We want to get the full measure of justice for these victims."

Defense attorney Roger Hunko said the verdict came as no shock. The defense's message during the penalty phase, he said, would be "that one should never kill when one doesn't have to. If you have a choice between life and death you should choose life. That's what our society says."

Richard Fasy, a public defender who represented Yates in Spokane, said: "I'm very disappointed. I'm chagrined, but I can only hope that a jury will decide to forgo the death penalty. I have every confidence in his present attorneys."

Hunko and fellow defense attorney Mary Kay High opened their case conceding their client shot Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998, but argued he should only be convicted of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors countered that the murders fit the pattern of Yates' 10 Spokane-area slayings between 1996 and 1998, thus constituting a common scheme of crime.

Los Angeles Times Articles