By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE — Serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr. will receive a sentence today that means he will die in prison, but not soon enough for the families of many of his 13 victims.
Though a Spokane County judge will sentence Yates to more than 440 years in prison, many people are wondering how Yates managed to avoid the death penalty.
"If I were the prosecutor, I would have sought the death penalty here in Spokane," Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, a former prosecutor, said during a debate with Republican challenger John Carlson on Friday. Carlson agreed that Yates should be executed.
State Attorney General Christine Gregoire also said that serial killings should warrant the death penalty.
But Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has argued that evidence that would have qualified Yates for capital punishment was weak.
Tucker agreed to a deal in which Yates would plead guilty but not be sentenced to death.
The state has been able to execute only one criminal in the past 19 years who was actually fighting for survival, Tucker said. Two other executions involved prisoners who had dropped appeals.
Tucker, a former State Patrol trooper in his first term as prosecutor, has said he wanted to avoid years of legal appeals. Tucker said he was also influenced by Yates’ confession to five murders with which he had not originally been charged, and his offer to tell investigators where one of his victims was buried.
Last week, investigators found the remains of a victim in the side yard of Yates’ Spokane house.
Yates, a 48-year-old father of five, could still face the death penalty in Pierce County, where he is charged with two additional slayings.
His case has spawned proposed legislation that would make it easier to seek capital punishment by adding "serial killing" to the list of aggravating circumstances in which the death penalty may be applied.
Yates wiped tears from his eyes as he pleaded guilty lastc Thursday to 13 murders and one attempted murder.
Today’s sentencing will offer family members the opportunity to confront Yates, and the hearing is expected to last for hours.
It’s not clear if Yates will make comments other than to answer court questions. His lawyers are concerned that comments could be used against him in the Pierce County cases.
Yates could be sent to Walla Walla or to maximum security prisons at Clallam Bay or Monroe, said Lori Scamahorn, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections at Walla Walla.
Though Yates worked briefly at Walla Walla as a guard in 1975, that would not preclude him from serving time there, she said.
"We haven’t found any staff member here who remembers him," Scamahorn said.
The Corrections Department has been unable to locate employment records to determine why Yates left after only a few months, she said. But the Walla Walla prison was a difficult place to work then, and there was a lot of turnover, she said.
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