Spokane serial killer Robert Yates’ execution date was set for Sept. 19, but that date is not expected to stand.
Judge John McCarthy signed Yates’ death warrant Friday in Pierce County Superior Court. But Yates’ lawyers planned to ask the state Supreme Court for a stay of execution so they can again appeal his sentence for killing two women in Pierce County.
Once the stay is requested, the Supreme Court will cancel the execution date, and the defense will be given until Aug. 1, 2009, to file arguments for appeal, officials said.
Victims’ relatives were present at Friday’s hearing in Tacoma.
“The overall sentiment was that they still have tremendous emotion about the murders and about Yates,” said Jerry Costello, deputy Pierce County prosecutor.
“They were surprisingly not too frustrated by the appeals process. They asked a lot of questions. Many of them felt strongly about Mr. Yates being put to death. But the mother of one of the victims very eloquently expressed her content that in his solitary cell, Mr. Yates has to think about what he’s done every day.”
Friday’s motion is standard practice in death penalty cases in Washington, Costello said.
After sentencing, the conviction and sentencing were automatically reviewed by the Washington Supreme Court, which upheld the court proceedings and decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Yates’ request that it review the case, Costello said. At that point, the original trial judge, McCarthy, was directed to sign the death warrant.
Yates was sentenced to death in 2002 by a Tacoma jury after his conviction on two counts of aggravated murder for the slayings of Melinda Mercer in December 1997 and Connie Ellis in 1998.
Yates, a Spokane factory worker and former military helicopter pilot, pleaded guilty to 13 murders in 2000 in Spokane County for which he was sentenced to 408 years in prison under a deal with Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker.
Yates argued the agreement should have prevented him from getting the death penalty for any murders he committed in Washington state.
Two years ago, Yates’ attorneys requested his death sentence be tossed out.
The defense pointed out that serial killer Gary Ridgway – the “Green River killer” who admitted to slaying 48 women – got life in prison, not a death sentence. The judge stood by the jury’s sentence.
Appeals will focus on items not in the court record, such as potential juror misconduct or arguments of inadequate defense, officials said.
Cal Walker, a retired Spokane Valley police chief, was a key investigator in the Yates case.
“When I heard that the death warrant was going to be signed, what went through my mind was what the families would have to go through as this process moves forward, not about Mr. Yates,” he said.
“Here they are again, going on another roller-coaster ride. I feel for them.”