Supreme Court rejects petition from serial killer Robert Yates

Former Oak Harbor resident has been on death row since 2002

Oak Harbor High School graduate Robert Yates will remain on death row.

Justices on the state Supreme Court rejected the serial killer’s latest petition this week to overturn his death sentence.

But when, if ever, Yates will be put to death is unknown since Gov. Jay Inslee announced last year that he was placing a moratorium on executions, which will prevent any death sentences from being carried out while he remains in office.

Yates graduate from Oak Harbor High School in 1970. He was a pitcher on the school’s baseball team and was remembered by  classmates, former teachers and coaches as a polite but unremarkable boy.

The Yates Family lived in a Barrington Drive home and were very loyal to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, his friends said. His father, Bob Yates, Sr. was in the civil service at the Navy base and his mother, Anna May Yates, worked at Whidbey General Hospital. She was sick while Yates was in high school and died of cancer in 1976.

Yates also worked at the hospital, but the details of his employment were lost over time.

Yates’ list of victims includes 15 women and one man.

There is no evidence that Yates killed anyone of Whidbey Island, but the mother and sister of one his victims live in Oak Harbor. He murdered Shawn Johnson, a mother of two, just before Christmas in 1997 in the Spokane area, where Yates was living with his wife and children.

Margaret Dettman and Debra Fine moved to Whidbey just a year before that.

In Spokane County, Yates confessed to killing 13 people in a plea bargain that he thought would spare his life in 2000. He admitted to killing a young couple picnicking in a woods near Walla Walla in 1975. He picked up a Seattle woman in 1988 and dumped her body in Skagit County. Between 1996 and 1998, he murdered 10 other women — including Johnson — in and around Spokane. He buried one of the bodies in the yard of his family’s home.

Prosecutors in Pierce County, however, didn’t go along with the plea bargain and charged Yates with murdering Melinda Mercer and Connie LaFontaine. Yates was convicted in 2002 of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

Yates’ defense team presented the jury with a Whidbey News-Times photo of him pitching a game in his youth and argued that the death penalty was inconsistently applied in the state.

The jury sentenced him to death.

The state Supreme Court has affirmed his conviction and sentence three times.

In the latest petition, the justices rejected his personal restraint petition as untimely. Under law, it was supposed to be filed within a year of the judgment and sentence becoming final.

Yates waited seven years to file.