EVERETT — A mentally ill man must spend the rest of his life in prison for breaking into a Mountlake Terrace home and killing a pregnant mother, Marta Haile.
The offense was the third strike for Christopher Yacono, 30. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to second-degree murder in Snohomish County Superior Court.
This week Judge Eric Lucas handed down the only sentence possible under state law: life in prison with no chance of release.
On the afternoon of April 16, 2018, the defendant picked up his cellphone from an ex-girlfriend’s home on 59th Avenue West. He later told a detective he’d been outside charging his dead phone battery in a car, when he felt compelled to knock on the door of a neighbor’s house. He got no answer, and forced his way inside. Haile heard the banging, and went upstairs to see what it was about.
Yacono had kicked down the door, according to court records. He saw the woman and beat her head into a wall. He kept hitting her on the floor. He struck her with a cooking pot hard enough to break the handle.
Haile’s roommates called police at 2:12 p.m., saying a stranger had come into the house, and that he was throwing things.
Officers knocked. Yacono opened the door, holding a beer. Another bottle of beer, with the same brand, had shattered near Haile’s head. Her family members were hiding.
Haile, 31, suffered severe brain injuries.
She was 18 weeks pregnant.
Days later, the mother of two was declared brain dead.
In spite of doctors’ efforts, the fetus did not survive.
Yacono had a misdemeanor history: drug-related crimes, reckless driving and domestic violence. He had no felony record until 2015, the year his mother took her own life.
That spring, he chased an off-and-on girlfriend with a hammer while shouting, “I am going to beat your (expletive) head in with this hammer, (expletive)!”
She believed he would have followed through with the threat, but he only came within four feet of her before she ran off screaming for help, according to charging papers. Yacono was sentenced to three months in jail for second-degree assault.
In 2016, he kicked in the door at his former roommate’s apartment in Lynnwood. He poured Sriracha sauce on the living room walls, spilled oatmeal in the kitchen and lit the man’s mattress on fire. He texted death threats, too. Yacono served a two-year prison sentence for first-degree arson and cyberstalking.
Yacono was released from prison on March 16, 2018. He was under supervision by the Department of Corrections.
In new court documents, Yacono’s public defender Jennifer Bartlett wrote that Yacono has a history of mental illness in his family. He had been prescribed the antipsychotic drug Abilify, as well as two antidepressants. His prescription changed from Abilify to Olanzapine in late March 2018.
“There was a mix up at the pharmacy,” his attorney wrote, “and Mr. Yacono was unable to fill the new prescription.”
About two weeks later, he broke into Haile’s home. She was taken off life support April 30, 2018.
A psychological evaluation recounted Yacono’s history of alcohol and drug abuse: cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, psilocybin and several other hallucinogenics. Over the years he’d been diagnosed with hebephrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, severe depression, hyperactivity and cannabis dependence. He hadn’t been able to hold a steady job since age 16.
Last year in jail, on a cocktail of medications, his speech became clear, soft and unlabored, according to the psych report.
Sometime after he graduated from Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood, he started to hear voices, he told a mental health professional.
“I only hear voices when there are unresolved factors I can’t understand in my life,” he reported. “Then they tell me to kill myself or others, but I don’t want to break the law, so I can’t do it.”
Yacono had a history of delusions about the apocalypse. He recounted past concerns that he had sensors in his body, and that people around him may be able to know what he was thinking. He’d have visual hallucinations. Other faces would distort, or he’d look in the mirror and see the Devil.
In May 2018, the defendant told an evaluator that he hoped he would be found not guilty.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
He was asked to explain.
“Because I don’t want the death penalty or (to) sit in prison for the rest of my life.”
He was found competent to stand trial in August 2018.
Yacono decided to plead guilty as the defense was wrapping up interviews with the state’s witnesses. Court papers note the crime was committed while on community custody.
“One of Mr. Yacono’s reasonings in pleading guilty was to spare the victim’s family a trial,” his attorney wrote.
The deputy prosecutor, Katie Wetmore, said she did not want the family to have to endure a trial, either.
Yacono’s defense did not seek any kind of an exceptional, lighter sentence in exchange for the plea. Since it was his third conviction for a violent felony, Yacono would serve life behind bars. He spoke for about 45 minutes at his sentencing, recounting his upbringing and background.
No one else spoke on his behalf.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.