By JOHN K. WILEY
SPOKANE – Robert L. Yates Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday to 13 murders, taking a place among the nation’s most prolific serial killers.
The Army veteran and helicopter pilot also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder as part of a deal to escape the death penalty.
Yates removed his glasses and wiped his eyes as he answered “guilty, your honor” as each count was read against him. It was his first public show of emotion since his arrest in April.
Yates made no statements during the 30-minute court appearance, other than to answer questions. The small courtroom was packed with the families of victims.
The 48-year-old father of five is to be sentenced next Thursday to 447 years in prison.
Yates kept looking at the tabletop and appeared to be trembling during the hearing.
Asked if the confession that was read in court was accurate, Yates replied: “That’s my statement, your honor.”
Members of Yates’ family, including some of his children, attended the hearing but didn’t comment afterward.
After the court appearance, public defender Richard Fasy confirmed that Yates had received threatening letters from inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, where he once worked as a guard.
“I am concerned for his safety in the future,” Fasy said. “Life in prison is not going to be easy for Mr. Yates.”
Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he didn’t believe Yates would be charged with crimes in other states.
“He’s been forthright so far, and said he’s killed this many and only in Washington state,” Tucker said.
Yates was arrested in April and charged with the deaths of eight women and the attempted murder of another in the Spokane area in 1996-98. He also was charged with the murders of two women in Pierce County that occurred in the same period.
All of those victims were involved in a life of prostitution and drugs, and had been shot.
Yates pleaded guilty to seven of the Spokane slayings he was originally charged with; three Spokane-area killings he had been suspected of; the murder of a young man and woman in Walla Walla County in 1975; and the murder of a woman in Skagit County in 1988.
Yates also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Christine Smith, 32, of Spokane, the only victim known to have escaped his attacks.
Yates could still face the death penalty in the two Tacoma-area slayings, and in an additional slaying in Spokane County that is being held in abeyance in case Yates tries to renege on the agreement or file an appeal.
Investigators say Yates frequently cruised Spokane’s red-light district in a white 1977 Corvette and picked up prostitutes. Last spring, investigators recovered a victim’s DNA in the car, providing the evidence that triggered Yates’ arrest.
After the arrest, Yates’ family left their Spokane home and went into hiding.
Yates takes his place among the nation’s most prolific killers, a list that includes the uncaught Green River Killer, blamed for the deaths of at least 49 women in Washington and Oregon starting in 1982, and Ted Bundy, a Tacoma native who confessed to killing 30 women, including eight in Washington state, before his execution in Florida in 1988.
John Wayne Gacy Jr. was convicted in 1980 of 33 Chicago-area murders, the most convictions by anyone in U.S. history.
On the Net: www.spokanepolice.org
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