MURDERER GETS WIN THAT GAINS HIM ZILCH Yates Firmly on Death Row despite Sentencing Error

Article excerpt

Serial killer Robert Yates is technically correct that the sentences he received for two murders were calculated improperly, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

But that doesn't mean he can have those cases thrown out, the court said, and by challenging his 408-year sentence, he could now face the death penalty from Spokane County.

The high court's ruling may be a pyrrhic victory for one of Spokane's most notorious murderers.

Yates is already on death row from two convictions in Pierce County. Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Thursday he'll discuss with staff whether to file the one remaining local murder charge that could add another death sentence.

Tucker's initial reaction, however, was "I can't see bringing him over here and giving him another 10 or 15 years of appeals."

Under his 2000 plea agreement, Yates pleaded guilty to 13 counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in Spokane County Superior Court. He was sentenced to slightly more than 408 years in prison after the consecutive sentences for those charges were added.

He received 20 years each for the first two murders, which he committed in 1975. In his appeal, Yates said those terms were calculated incorrectly because the two murders occurred before the state revised its sentencing guidelines in 1981.

Rather than getting a definite 20 years for each murder, Yates said he should have been sentenced under the old law to a pair of indeterminate life sentences with a minimum of 20 years, which could be reviewed at some point by a Sentencing Review Board to determine the maximum he would serve on those two counts.

Technically correct, the court said in a 7-2 opinion, but the practical effect means the error doesn't matter.

"Yates agreed to a sentence of 408 years in prison, and he should have been sentenced to a minimum of 408 years with a potential extension to a life sentence," Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority. "Given the reality of the human life-span, there is no difference between those two sentences. …