Yates pleads guilty to serial killings


Associated Press

SPOKANE – Robert L. Yates Jr. pleaded guilty today 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 family of victims.

The 48-year-old father of five is to be sentenced next Thursday to 447 years in prison.

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 the 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 charged with; two Spokane-area slayings he was suspected of but not charged with; 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.

Yates’ relatives this week said they knew him as a caring family man who loved cars and the outdoors, and was proud of his service in the Army and National Guard as a helicopter pilot.

But Sonja Yates, one of Yates’ four daughters, said there had been signs of trouble.

“My mom had her suspicions that he was sneaking around once in a while,” the 22-year-old said Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since her father’s arrest. “He would stay out until 2 in the morning. She wondered what he was doing.”

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.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.