By JOHN K. WILEY
SPOKANE – Serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr., tearful and apologetic, was sentenced to 408 years in prison today after confessing to 13 murders and one attempted murder.
Relatives of Yates’ victims demanded to know what made him, but Yates offered no explanation – not even to his daughter, who sobbed just a few feet from him as she asked that question.
“I pray that God will right the wrongs that I have committed and that justice will bring closure,” Yates, 48, told a small courtroom packed with bitter relatives of his victims.
Little closure seemed evident.
“Why did you do it?” said Kathy Lloyd, sister of victim Shawn McClenahan, interrupting Yates as he spoke. Yates did not answer.
Many family members denounced the deal in which Yates escaped the death penalty in exchange for the guilty pleas.
“Life must be cheap in Eastern Washington,” said Don Oliver, brother of Patrick Oliver, who was killed in Walla Walla County in 1975. “Mr. Yates deserves to die.”
“How many murders does one have to commit to get the death penalty?” asked John Joseph, father of victim Jennifer Joseph.
“Like most of the victims I want to know why, what caused this?” asked Sasha Yates, 25, the eldest of Yates’ five children.
“I still love you dad, even though you did this,” she said as her father looked away.
Yates could still face the death penalty in Pierce County, where he is charged with two additional slayings. Gerry Horne of the Pierce County prosecutor’s office said a decision had not been made on whether to seek the death penalty should Yates be convicted.
Spokane County Superior Judge Richard Schroeder also fined Yates $60,000, and signed an order releasing Yates to the custody of the Pierce County sheriff. Yates was to be taken to Tacoma later today, where he faces arraignment Tuesday.
Speaker after speaker denounced Yates, who in the late 1990s cruised Spokane in a white Corvette to pick up prostitutes whom he then shot to death. His killings go back a quarter-century when he gunned down Oliver and a young woman who were picnicking near Walla Walla.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to go to a cemetery for a family reunion for 25 years?” said Chris Oliver, another of Oliver’s brothers.
“He has disgraced and dishonored every uniform he ever wore,” John Joseph said of Yates, a U.S. Army veteran and former National Guard helicopter pilot.
The case renewed debate about the state’s death penalty laws after Yates agreed to admit the murders and show investigators where a missing body was buried in exchange for escaping capital punishment.
Last week, investigators found the remains of a woman buried in the side yard of Yates’ Spokane house, beneath his bedroom window.
Yates admitted killing 10 women in Spokane County in 1996-98. He also admitted the 1975 Walla Walla slayings, and killing a woman whose body was found in 1988 in Western Washington’s Skagit County.
Yates wiped tears from his eyes as he pleaded guilty Oct. 19 to 13 counts of first-degree murder and one of first-degree attempted murder.
A special homicide task force set up in 1997 to investigate the deaths of Spokane prostitutes is still following up leads in other unsolved slayings in the region, Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cal Walker said today.
The 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 could be sent to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla or to maximum security prisons at Clallam Bay or Monroe, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lori Scamahorn said.
Yates’ brief employment as a guard at Walla Walla in 1975 would not preclude him from serving time there, she 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.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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