Jury Decides on Death for Serial Killer

From Associated Press

A jury on Thursday sentenced serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. to death by injection for the aggravated murders of two women.

The Pierce County Superior Court jury of seven men and five women began deliberating late Wednesday. On Sept. 19, the same panel convicted Yates of murdering Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998.

The 50-year-old father of five is already serving a 408-year sentence under a plea agreement two years ago with Spokane County, in which he admitted murdering 13 other people since 1975. Ten were women who, like Mercer and Ellis, died after encountering Yates as prostitutes from 1996 to 1998.


Pierce County prosecutors refused to sign off on the deal, and brought Yates to Tacoma for trial.

Holly Bartlett kissed a photo of Mercer, her sister, as the jury’s decision was read. Mercer’s mother, Karyl Bushell, said she wanted to hug each member of the jury, and added that she would visit her daughter’s grave today.

“I’m very happy about it,” she said. “I wanted him to take responsibility for killing my daughter and Connie.”

The verdict brought no discernible reaction from Yates, though his father, Robert Lee Yates Sr., and sister, Shirley Hess, cried and comforted each other.

Aggravated first-degree murder is the only crime that carries the death penalty in Washington state; life imprisonment without parole is the only other option. Jurors had to be unanimous in ruling for death.

“He richly deserved the death penalty,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jerry Costello.


Defense attorney Roger Hunko said he planned to file an appeal as soon as the sentencing is made official on Oct. 9. It probably would be at least seven years before a death penalty could be carried out, he said.

Jurors deliberated just over an hour Wednesday before resuming their work Thursday and reaching their decision just before noon.

The prostitute slayings took place after Yates left the Army and moved his family to Spokane. His National Guard duties as a helicopter pilot brought him to the Tacoma area during that time.

“The world is a frightening place, and I’ve made it more so for many,” Yates told jurors Wednesday, before deliberations began. “Hundreds of people are hurting and grieving because of my actions.”