TACOMA — A defense-team observer will not be allowed to go airborne with police investigators and prosecutors will not be required to share all correspondence with Spokane officials regarding convicted 13-time killer Robert Yates, a judge ruled Monday.
No formal motion was filed on whether Yates’ Spokane confessions will be allowed at his Tacoma trial on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder, but the issue was discussed at the pretrial hearing before Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy.
"That’s going to be a very major issue," in Yates’ Tacoma trial, said Jerry Costello, assistant Pierce County prosecutor.
Yates faces trial in the deaths of two women in Pierce County.
The 48-year-old Yates was sentenced in October to 408 years in prison for the murders of 10 women in Spokane since 1996, a woman in Skagit County in 1988 and a couple near Walla Walla in 1975, as well as one attempted murder. He confessed to the murders as part of a plea-bargain to escape the death penalty.
Prosecutors have until Jan. 15 to decide whether to seek the death penalty in the Pierce County cases. If they do, they would seek to prove Yates killed the two women as part of a "common scheme," making the Spokane confessions critical.
McCarthy on Monday denied a motion by Yates’ lawyers to send an observer on helicopter flights with investigators who are using a global positioning satellite device seized from Yates’ Spokane home to retrace his movements in a probe of other killings.
Yates is an Army veteran and former National Guard helicopter pilot who served tours in Germany and at several U.S. bases. Law-enforcement officers in many of those places are studying unsolved crimes to see if Yates might be involved.
The judge also denied a motion to let defense lawyers see all correspondence to Pierce County prosecutors from Spokane County prosecutors or law enforcement, as well as a motion to make prosecutors provide negatives of thousands of photos taken in the overall investigation of Yates.
The defense team already has prints of the photos, Costello said.
A defense motion to give Yates more access to a phone at the Pierce County Jail was resolved in a discussion with jail staff.
Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29.
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