Guilty plea in case of slain teen buried in desert

Almost six years to the day he was arrested, Gabriel Yates pleaded guilty Friday in the slaying of a 17-year-old girl whose naked and mutilated body was found in a shallow grave in the desert outside Las Vegas in 2008.

After ongoing conflicting statements about how Nichole Yegge died, Yates told District Judge David Barker that he strangled the teen in a “rear naked choke-hold.”

Yates and then 21-year-old Anne Osburn were arrested Aug. 2, 2008, after detectives found Yegge’s body under a pile of rocks along a fence outside the Snow Mountain Golf Course.

Yates, now 37, “wanted closure for everyone — himself, the victim’s family,” his attorney, Robert Langford, said Friday.

Yates pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and prosecutors dropped five other charges against him. He faces 20 to 50 years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for October.

Yates, who has been in custody since his 2008 arrest, would be eligible for parole in 14 years, his attorney said.

Before the plea, Yates had been facing the death penalty in a trial slated to start next week.

Prosecutors had expected Yates to blame the murder on Osburn, now 27, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci.

The case lingered in the Clark County court system as Yates fired attorney after attorney.

“We thought that when a jury was finally coming, he might change his opinion,” Pesci said.

Osburn is awaiting a trial slated for later this month.

Special Public Defender David Schieck, who represents Osburn, declined to comment on how Yates’ plea would affect his client’s case.

Las Vegas authorities have said the couple pimped out Yegge, a runaway teen.

The case hinged on testimony from Michelle Wilbourn, a former friend of Yates.

In late July 2008, she called from Alabama looking for Yates, when Osburn told her “they were in trouble, and they needed help,” according to court records.

Yates and Yegge had gone to California overnight while Osburn was in the hospital giving birth to Yates’ child.

A few days later, Osburn returned home to their apartment in the 4600 block of Koval Lane, while the baby remained at the hospital, and told Yegge she needed to leave.

“That’s fine,” Yegge told her. “You can kick me out. I’m gonna call and report you guys for pimping me out on Craigslist.”

Osburn initially told Wilbourn she “lost it because she didn’t want to lose her family,” according to Wilbourn’s 2011 testimony.

Osburn said she grabbed Yegge at the door, choked her and slammed her head on the floor.

“The next thing she knew, she wasn’t breathing,” Wilbourn testified.

After Yegge died, Yates wanted to conceal her identity.

He dragged her body into a bathtub and yanked her teeth out with pliers, then he sliced the tattoos off her skin.

Yates trusted Wilbourn, and they need ed some money and her help to run away with the baby. At first, they thought they would escape to Canada.

Later, they decided on Texas, where Osburn’s parents lived.

After she heard the story, Wilbourn immediately contacted authorities, who brought her to Nevada with her boyfriend.

While wearing a wire, Wilbourn told Yates and Osburn that she and her boyfriend would help them flee the state. But her boyfriend wanted to make sure no one could find the body.

In reality, it was all a ruse to get him to show police where Yegge was buried.

Investigators followed Yates to the area near a shallow grave just north of the U.S. Highway 95 turnoff to Kyle Canyon Road.

As police watched, Yates lingered for a few moments, then drove away in a black BMW with Texas tags that read “GO2GUY.”

“But for (Wilbourn’s) call, this would have never come to light,” Pesci said. “I don’t know if they would have ever come across the body.”

It wasn’t the first time Yates was potentially facing a murder charge.

In August 1995, authorities from a small beach town in Florida arrested him in connection with the beating and drowning of a 13-year-old boy two years before, according to press reports.

He was acquitted by a jury.

“There’s a certain degree of self confidence he had for years because he was able to get away with one before,” Pesci said. “But that kind of changed.”

Wilbourn testified in 2011 that Yates didn’t think he could beat two murder charges. Authorities believe that Osburn made up the story about strangling and beating Yegge in order to protect herself from Yates. She would tell Wilbourn “I did it, I did it.”

But in one conversation, the story changed.

They were at Walmart, pulling the baby out of the car seat.

“Then she slipped up at one point and said that he hit her,” Wilbourn testified. “And I think that was one of the parts where some of it went out.”

After they recovered the body, police found Yates at the Texas Station Casino.

Police ultimately identified Yegge through her fingerprints.

“He had at one point told me,” Wilbourn said, “that he threw the teeth and the tattoos in a lake.”

Contact reporter David Ferrara at 702-380-1039 or dferrara@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.