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Nathan Yager to be retried this summer

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Melinda Yager

Six years have passed since the brutal slaying of Melinda Tackett Yager, yet her family is still looking for closure. Nathan Yager, convicted of murdering his estranged wife in January 2011, won an appeal and another shot at convincing a jury he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Yager will be retried in a jury trial to begin in late July. In the meantime, he is eligible for bond. A hearing on that matter was held in Delta District Court Feb. 8.

Melinda's twin brother Matt told Judge Steven Schultz that it was "surreal" to be back in court, forced to again listen to the horrific details of his sister's death and be faced with the man he said is responsible for stalking, threatening and finally murdering her. He, Melinda's sister and her father traveled from California to address the court on the amount of bond.

Matt and his wife are raising Melinda's daughter, who was 1 year old at the time of her death. "He chased down and butchered my sister, left her dead in the snow and then ran away," he told the judge.

Dr. Michael Benziger, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Melinda, described the blunt force trauma to her head and the deep incisions across her throat that caused her to bleed to death.

District attorney Dan Hotsenpiller also elicited testimony from Collin Reese, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent who served as lead investigator in the case, and Duane Morton, who was a detective with the Delta County Sheriff's Office. Morton is now an investigator for Hotsenpiller's office.

Yager is represented by deputy state public defenders Kori Zapletal and Patrick Crane.

The Colorado Court of Appeals decision to overturn Yager's conviction essentially wiped the slate clean, Zapletal said, and her client should be presumed innocent. Because he has been in prison and has no resources, she argued for a personal recognizance bond or, as an alternative, a $100,000 bond. She said her client would agree to electronic monitoring, which would assure his movements could always be tracked. She pointed out that Yager turned himself in to authorities, without incident, the day of the murder. She said that act speaks to the flight risk raised by family members and Hotsenpiller, who pointed to Yager's 42-year sentence on the original conviction. Faced with another lengthy sentence, Yager is the "epitome of a flight risk," Matt Tackett said.

Although Yager's defense attorneys promised he would comply with any bond conditions imposed by the court, Hotsenpiller brought up a protection order prohibiting Nathan from the home he had occupied with Melinda in Paonia. Yager ignored that order and entered the house because he believed some of his possessions were missing. Melinda was attempting to take photos on her phone, to present as evidence to the court, when she was chased down and murdered. Nathan fled the scene by swerving his truck around railroad crossing arms and an approaching train. He drove to Montrose, where he surrendered to law enforcement.

An alleged propensity for violence and impulsive behavior was illustrated by an incident at Crowley County Correctional Facility, where Yager assaulted another inmate, inflicting serious bodily injury. Although no criminal charges were filed, Yager was reclassified and moved to a maximum security facility in Centennial.

Taking all the arguments into consideration, Judge Schultz set bond at $750,000, the amount recommended by the district attorney. Yager will be housed in the Delta County Jail until he can post bond or the case is resolved.

Prior to the first trial, Yager was examined by three psychiatrists.

Two state-retained psychiatrists said Yager was legally sane at the time of the killing. A private psychiatrist testified that he suffered from depression and a disassociative disorder and therefore could not be held criminally responsible for the killing.

Yager pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but before the jury began its deliberations, the court took the issue of insanity off the table. Yager was found guilty of second degree murder.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Yager is entitled to a new trial because the jury should have been given the opportunity to weigh the evidence with respect to the defendant's claim of insanity.

"Though the prosecution presented expert testimony that Yager was not insane at the time of the killing, but was simply angry, that evidence was contested and the jury, not the court, was entrusted to make that determination," the appeals court ruled.

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