No prison sentence can cure the loss being experienced by the family and friends of Melinda Tackett Yager, Judge Charles Greenacre acknowledged during a sentencing hearing Friday. But after weighing all the circumstances, he ordered Nathan Yager to serve a 42 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections in the death of Melinda, his estranged wife.
In November, a jury of 12 took less than two hours to convict Yager of second degree murder. There were never any other suspects in the brutal stabbing which took place in Paonia on Jan. 7, 2011. The defense initially attempted to prove Nathan was in a "disassociative" state when he committed the murder; later public defender Stephan Schweissing tried to prove the act was the result of "provoked passion." Jurors rejected that theory.
During the sentencing hearing, both Melinda's father and her twin brother Matthew pleaded for justice. Advocating the maximum sentence, Matthew spoke harshly of Nathan's "failure, failure, failure" as a man, as a husband and as a father.
Matthew sat through most of the lengthy trial. He said he was not prepared for the images of his deceased sister enlarged on a TV screen, "all but decapitated," but he was glad the jury could see what Nathan was capable of. "I obscured my view, but I could see the color red," he said. "It was her blood . . . my blood too."
He said he is ready to let his anger go and do what Nathan Yager should have done — focus on the future and focus on raising Callie, Melinda and Nathan's daughter. "We promise to continue to devote our lives to Callie, but we need the court's help," he said, asking that the current protection order remain in place. That order prohibits contact between Callie and her father.
He wrapped up a heart-wrenching statement by reading words from Melinda's journal, including an entry that would become her last words to her daughter. Matthew riffled through the empty pages remaining in the journal, silent testimony to a life cut short.
Assistant district attorney Kerri Yoder read a statement from Melinda's two close friends, Corey Stroud and Andrea Reedy, who lamented the transformation of Paonia from a small, safe town to a place where murder takes place on the railroad tracks.
Nathan's parents, Ray and Julie Yager, also addressed the court. Ray Yager said the entire family went on trial Jan. 7, 2011, and has been subject to ridicule, lies, humiliation and slander ever since. He described Melinda's friends first as "vigilantes," then as her "lieutenants" and congratulated them for orchestrating a sucessful "pincer movement" in the alley behind the house where the murder occurred.
Nathan and Melinda's divorce and child custody hearings spiraled out of control as the end of 2010 approached. Looking back, Julie Yager said, it is apparent the family court system is broken. The children should be the first priority in every divorce case, she said; the goal should never be for one parent "to win at all costs."
She pointed fingers at the magistrate, the attorneys on both sides, the judge in county court, Officer Sanchez of the Paonia Police Department, and even Melinda Yager for putting herself in a potentially dangerous situation.
"Nathan snapped," she told the judge, "but I believe Melinda did too. Please consider all the factors that helped create this 'perfect storm.' "
In pointed reference to the Yagers' comments, defense attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said it is the role of the prosecution to ensure people are held accountable for their actions. "It is evident the defendant is incapable of taking account for his conduct because he was taught, apparently, how not to do so.
"Nothing justifies what Nathan did to Melinda," he said, graphically describing the way Nathan brutally ended her life. "There's no system in the world to rehabilitate an individual who refuses to take responsibility for his actions."
Nathan did not testify at trial, as is his right, and he declined to talk to the probation officer who prepared the pre-sentence report because he plans to file an appeal. But his silence should not be interpreted as lack of remose, Schweissing said.
"Nathan was advised not to speak," Schweissing said, "but he is remorseful about his entire situation."
Schweissing countered several points contained in the pre-sentence report before enumerating what he considers mitigating factors. He said Nathan does not have a history of violence, and while he has a criminal record, the misdemeanors were confined to traffic and alcohol offenses.Yager's last contact with law enforcement was in 2004.
At the risk of "victim bashing," Schweissing pointed out Melinda's actions on Jan. 7 were not those of someone in fear for their life, but of someone looking for a confrontation.
"Nathan Yager does bear responsibility," Schweissing said, "but the events of Jan. 7 would not have happened but for the actions of Melinda Yager."
Nathan Yager stood for a brief statement. "I have asked God for forgiveness," he said. "I pray the family and friends of Melinda find forgiveness as well."
Judge Charles Greenacre based the 42-year sentence in part on a previous murder conviction in his courtroom, also for a fatal stabbing. In that case, he said, the accused showed "substantial" remorse. He said Nathan Yager's apparent lack of remorse is a "major concern." He also considered the nature of the offense, which he described as a "violent, unprovoked attack." He understands Yager was experiencing extreme levels of stress, and the act was entirely spontaneous, but said the pain to Melinda's family, and particularly her daughter, who is now 3, is irreversible.
A new public defender will be appointed to handle Yager's appeal.blog comments powered by Disqus