Death Penalty

Life for 48 Murders, So Why Me?

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The notorious Washington state killer who murdered 48 women didn’t get the death penalty. And Robert Yates Jr. didn’t, either, when he confessed in a Spokane County plea deal to murdering 13.

But two of the killings about which he gave information wound up being prosecuted in a separate case in Pierce County, for which Yates did get the death penalty. So, on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, Yates argued that a mere two murders shouldn’t qualify for the ultimate penalty if many more killings do not. He also claimed he was tricked into the plea that led to his disproportionate death sentence, recounts the Associated Press.

The court disagreed, voting 8-1 today that Yates’ death sentence, as the majority opinion puts it, was not “excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.”

There apparently may indeed have been confusion over Yates’ murder plea: Spokane County prosecutor Steve Tucker “has repeatedly said he thought he had then-Pierce County prosecutor John Ladenburg’s permission to include the two Pierce County cases in the plea deal,” the AP article notes.

However, the court disagreed with the defendant about this issue, too. “Yates’s argument is, in essence, that the doctrine of fundamental fairness entitles him to specific performance of Pierce County’s alleged promise to forgo the death penalty,” states the opinion. “Even if we were to assume that Pierce County had offered to forgo the death penalty in exchange for Yates’s guilty plea (and there is no evidence that Pierce County ever extended such an offer), the doctrine of fundamental fairness provides no basis for specific performance of that plea proposal.”

There were two concurring opinions—this one and this one—and a dissenting opinion.

Associated Press (“Ridgway Sentenced to Life for 48 Murders”).

News Tribune (“Death sentence of Robert Yates Jr. upheld”).

ABC News (“Supreme Court rejects Yates’ appeal, upholds execution”)

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