US judge sentences serial killer to four centuries' imprisonment

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Leniency was not exactly on the mind of Judge Richard Schroeder when he cast a withering eye on the guilty man in the dock and delivered a prison sentence that might have been infinity. The precise term was 408 years.

Leniency was not exactly on the mind of Judge Richard Schroeder when he cast a withering eye on the guilty man in the dock and delivered a prison sentence that might have been infinity. The precise term was 408 years.

Robert Yates, 48, is unlikely to be regaining his freedom in 2408. Yet for many of those crowding the courtroom's public gallery, his sentence seemed unduly light.

These were the relatives of the 13 young men and women Yates admitted he had killed in a confession to the same court two weeks ago. Nor were they silent when the judge made his determination. They demanded to know why he had taken so many lives.

Yates, who enters the annals as one of America's most prolific serial killers, could not tell them. But he did offer his regrets. "I pray that God will right the wrongs that I have committed," he said.

Yates, a former National Guard helicopter pilot and army veteran, admitted 10 killings in the Spokane area from 1996 to 1998, the deaths of a man and woman in Washington in 1975, and of a woman in the state's north-eastern corner in 1988.

The case, heard in Spokane, has triggered controversy over capital punishment in the state. His confession, as well as help he gave in allowing police to recover a victim's body buried in his garden, was enough for the judge to commute the death sentence to imprisonment.

"Do you know what it's like to go to a cemetery for a family reunion for 25 years?" said Chris Oliver, brother of Patrick Oliver, killed in 1975. "He has dishonoured every uniform he ever wore," said John Joseph, father of Jennifer Joseph, killed in 1997.

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