State Supreme Court rejects killer’s petition

SPOKANE — The state Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a post-appeal petition from Spokane serial killer Robert Yates, ruling that none of his claims of trial error merited review or a hearing.

Yates’ petition raised 25 grounds for relief, including ineffective assistance of counsel, juror bias and numerous procedural issues.

Yates, 60, in 2000 pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in Spokane County in a deal in which he was sentenced to 408 years in prison instead of death. Two years later he was sentenced to death for two murders in Pierce County in 1997 and 1998. He is on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

“Yates has failed to establish any meritorious claims,” the Supreme Court ruled Thursday. “We therefore dismiss Yates’s personal restraint petition.”

The court in 2007 had upheld Yates’ death sentence, and the next year he filed a personal restraint petition raising a host of concerns about the Pierce County trial. They included whether his right to a public trial was violated, whether the process of death qualification violated the Washington Constitution, whether there was juror misconduct, whether the state made improper arguments about his future dangerousness, and whether the state’s death penalty was arbitrary and unconstitutional, among other issues.

Yates, who is white, also contended that the racial makeup of his jury did not reflect Pierce County’s population, that low pay for jurors acted to exclude working class and nonelderly people, and that closing portions of jury selection to the public violated his public trial rights. All those claims were rejected.

“Yates has failed to make a prima facie showing that his right to a public trial was violated,” the decision said.

Yates also contended that one of the jurors was biased because she allegedly stated during the trial that she intended to write a book about the case.

Yates contended his own lawyers failed to investigate the possible presence of a mental disease that could account for his actions and failed to provide information “humanizing” him to the jury. But the Supreme Court found that his lawyers did conduct an inquiry into his mental health, and did present witnesses such as family members and high school coaches who tended to “humanize” him. However, some family members “were understandably conflicted” about Yates and were not called to testify, the court said.

Yates was raised at Oak Harbor in a middle class family. He worked as a prison guard and later joined the U.S. Army, where he was a pilot.

Between 1996 and 1998, he preyed on prostitutes working in a downtrodden part of East Sprague Avenue in Spokane. All his victims died of gunshot wounds to the head after they were hired by Yates. The body of one victim was buried outside the bedroom window of Yates’ home on Spokane’s South Hill.

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