Former Oak Harbor resident Robert Yates appealing death sentence

Robert Yates, a 1970 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, has been on death row for the last 11 years.

The confessed serial killer is formally seeking an appeal of his death sentence in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Yates’ attorneys filed an application for writ of habeas corpus and a request for stay of execution.

Yates may have killed as many as 17 people, some of them prostitutes, between 1996 and 1998. Most of the murders occurred in Spokane County, but he also killed in Skagit, Walla Walla and Pierce counties.

He received a plea deal in Spokane County and was sentenced to 408 years in prison after confessing to 13 murders.

Prosecutors in Pierce County sought and obtained a death penalty in 2002 for the deaths of Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998.

Yates is remembered as a normal kid in Oak Harbor by people who went to school with him in the 1960s. He was pitcher on the high school baseball team.

The application for writ for habeas corpus claims Yates was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. It states his trial attorneys failed to investigate and present evidence that Yates suffers from a mental disease and brain damage.

“Mr. Yates is mentally ill,” the document states. “Through no fault of his own, Mr. Yates suffers from a severe paraphilic disorder. That disorder predisposed him to the crimes he committed.”

“I don’t think Mr. Yates helps his cause by relying on the fact that he’s a necrophiliac,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist told the Seattle Times.

Yates had sex with the women’s bodies after shooting them in the head, court documents indicate.

In addition, the petition claims Yates’ attorneys failed to investigate and present evidence of his “many positive relationships, his acts of caring and kindness and the love he feels for his family and they feel for him.”

His attorneys also failed to present evidence of Yates’ minimal risk of committing violence if sentenced to life in prison or that he cooperated with police.


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