Gabriel Yates, who admitted to killing a 17-year-old girl in Las Vegas, was sentenced Friday to 20 to 50 years in prison.
After staying quiet for more than six years about his role in the death of Nichole Yegge, Yates said Friday that he acted alone in the beating and strangulation.
Yegge’s naked, mutilated body was found in a shallow desert grave in August 2008. In an attempt to conceal the victim’s identity, Yates had knocked out Yegge’s teeth and sliced the tattoos off her skin.
Originally facing the death penalty, Yates dragged the case through the courts for years, firing lawyer after lawyer, while leading prosecutors to believe that he would pin the strangulation on his co-defendant and girlfriend, Anne Osburn.
Yates and 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 northwest of Las Vegas.
Yates, now 37, told District Judge David Barker on Friday that “Ms. Osburn did not participate in the murder. I did that by myself. And she didn’t encourage me to do it, either.”
Yates pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in August, saying he strangled the teen in a “rear naked choke-hold,” and prosecutors dropped five other charges against him.
“I would like to apologize to both the victims’ families, both Ms. Yegge’s family and Ms. Osburn’s family, for dragging them into this mess,” Yates said. “If there’s anything I could do to help them get closure, my door’s always open.”
The judge reacted to Yates’ comments by saying simply, “interesting,” before allowing lawyers and Yegge’s family to speak.
Yegge’s relatives remembered her as someone who was “loving and caring and had a heart of gold.”
Barker ultimately agreed to follow the plea agreement between Yates and prosecutors.
“You talk contrition, you talk apology,” the judge told Yates. “But when I look into the facts of this case, I see nothing but violence.”
Yates, who has been in custody since his arrest, would be eligible for parole in 14 years, his attorney, Robert Langford, has said.
Special Public Defender David Schieck, who represents Osburn, said after the hearing that he expects to resolve Osburn’s case soon. She is slated to appear in court next month.
It was unclear Friday how Yates’ comments in court would affect negotiations for Osburn, who remains in the Clark County Detention Center without bail.
“His word is not overly credible in our eyes,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci said after the hearing. “What he perceives as involvement doesn’t necessarily equate to a legal involvement.”
Las Vegas authorities have said Yates and Osburn pimped out Yegge, a runaway teen who suffered from bipolar disorder.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my beautiful daughter,” Stephanie Yegge said.
Outside the courtroom, the victim’s mother said she believed Yates “got off too easy.” She cautioned other children about running away.
“This is what happens,” Stephanie Yegge said. “The world is cold and cruel.”
She was told Yates destroyed the teen’s possessions. All the family had left was a lock of her hair.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t give for one more day,” Yegge said, “one more hug, one more ‘I love you.’”
The case against Yates hinged on testimony from his former friend, Michelle Wilbourn, who had called from Alabama looking for Yates around the time of the slaying.
Osburn answered the phone and told Wilbourn “they were in trouble, and they needed help,” according to court records.
Osburn had given birth to Yates’ child and returned to their apartment in the 4600 block of Koval Lane, while the baby remained at the hospital. They asked Yegge to leave, and she threatened to report the couple to police 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.
Yates trusted Wilbourn, and they needed some money and her help to run away with the baby.
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 leave the state. But her boyfriend wanted to make sure no one could find the body. Unwittingly, Yates showed police where Yegge was buried.
It wasn’t the first time Yates was charged in a killing. In 1995, authorities from a small beach town in Florida arrested him in the beating and drowning of a 13-year-old boy. He was later acquitted by a jury.
Wilbourn testified in 2011 that Yates didn’t think he could beat a second murder case. Authorities believe that Osburn lied about strangling and beating Yegge in order to protect herself from Yates.
But in one conversation with Wilbourn, the story changed.
They were at Wal-Mart, pulling the baby out of the car seat.
“Then she slipped up at one point and said that (Yates) hit (Yegge),” Wilbourn testified. “And I think that was one of the parts where some of it went out.”
Contact reporter David Ferrara at 702-380-1039 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.