Judge sets Sept. 19 execution date for serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr.

TACOMA — A judge signed a death warrant Friday for convicted serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr., but the execution date could be postponed for further appeals.

Yates, 56, showed no reaction as Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy set an execution date of Sept. 19, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Friday. Relatives of Yates’ victims were among those who packed the courtroom during the short hearing.

Yates’ attorneys said they expect to immediately ask the state Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

Yates was sentenced to death in 2002 for shooting two Tacoma prostitutes and suffocating them by tying plastic grocery bags over their heads.

The former smelter worker and Air National Guard helicopter pilot also was sentenced to 408 years for murdering 13 women in Spokane, Walla Walla and Skagit counties. All those victims were prostitutes he killed in the same manner as the Tacoma women, but Yates avoided the death penalty in a plea deal.

The Supreme Court examined Yates’ Tacoma case in an earlier appeal, upholding his death sentence in an 8-1 ruling last year.

In that appeal, Yates asked the court to take a fresh look at how capital punishment is applied in Washington.

He pointed to Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, who avoided capital punishment for killing 48 women through a plea deal with King County prosecutors. Yates also raised his own plea bargain in Spokane County — he got life in prison for slaying 13 women, but death for killing two Tacoma women.

Yates’ lawyers argued at the time that such disparity showed Washington allows “disproportionate, freakish, wanton and random” application of the death penalty.

Yates also contested Pierce County’s decision to withdraw from what he called a deal with the Spokane prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for his guilty pleas and information about his victims.

But the high court swept away all of Yates’ arguments, saying prosecutors’ discretion to seek the death penalty as they see fit did not pose a basic constitutional flaw in how the state applies capital punishment.

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