Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.

Wrap Up

Melody Murfin
Melody Murfin

There was yet another murder that Yates was suspected of committing, that of 43-year-old Melody Murfin.  Murfin, a known drug addict, was last seen on May 20, 1998.  Because of her profile, Yates was a prime suspect in her disappearance and murder, but there was no body and no evidence that linked Yates to Murfin.  However, that soon changed.

On Monday, October 16, 2000, faced with the insurmountable evidence against him and the almost certainty of receiving the death penalty if convicted of the charges against him, Yates, through his attorneys, announced that he was ready to strike a deal.  In exchange for receiving life in prison, Yates said that he was willing to plead guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder, but would not plead guilty to the charges facing him in Pierce County.  He also said that he would lead the cops to Melody Murfin's body.

Officers prepare to dig in Yates' backyard
Officers prepare to dig in Yates' backyard

After prosecutors agreed to the terms of his offer, Yates sketched out a map of the yard of his home on a yellow legal pad.  Detectives spent about two hours digging up portions of the yard of Yates' former home before they found what they were looking for.  They found Melody Murfin's remains buried about eight inches below the surface in a bark-covered flowerbed near what used to be Yates' bedroom window, approximately one foot away from the house's foundation.

Two weeks later Yates kept his word and pleaded guilty to 13 of the murders that the task force had been investigating.

At his sentencing Melody Murfin's daughter, Anne, made the following courtroom statement to Yates:

"My name is Anne, and I'm also the daughter of Melody Murfin.  And I would just like to say that everybody says this is a closure and this is what's going to make us feel better in the end.  However, my mother made bad choices but that never made her a bad person.  Yates makes bad choices and that makes him a terrible person.  And the plea-bargain—I'm grateful that I now know that my mother is never coming back to me.  As soon as she doesn't get to be a part of me, I don't think you should be able to get to be a part of, any part of your family.  How could you do that to us?  How could you take my mother and bury her in your yard?  And your family walks around my mother for two and a half years.  You stole her soul.  I don't think you ever deserve to ever see daylight.  Ever see your family.  You must be tormented in prison for the rest of your life.  Tortured.  You're a sick monster.  And you will be judged.  That's all I have to say."

Before his sentence was meted out, Yates claimed that he felt remorse for the crimes he had committed.  He said the following amid hissing and jeers in the courtroom:

"I've taken away the love, the compassion and the tenderness of your loved ones, and left in that place grief and bitterness...In my struggle to overcome my guilt and shame, I have turned to God...I hope that God will replace your...sorrow with peace."

Robert Lee Yates Jr.
Robert Lee Yates Jr.

Yates was then sentenced to 408 years in prison for one of the worst murder sprees in U.S. history. 

On October 3, 2002 , Associated Press reported that the jurors who sentenced a 50-year-old father of five to death said they struggled to find mitigating circumstances that would warrant leniency for the serial killer, Robert Lee Yates Jr.

"We didn't find any,'' juror Renee Rouleau-White told reporters.

Yates showed no reaction when the penalty decision was read Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court, but his father and sister hugged each other and wept. Yates' wife and children were not in court.

Defense attorney Roger Hunko said he would begin an appeal after the sentence is officially imposed Wednesday. He said the appeals process could take seven years.


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