Sarah Yarborough

DNA from Cigarette Helps Convict Child Rapist Who Murdered Washington Girl, Left Body Near School Parking Lot

A Washington man was convicted this week of murder, following the decades-old murder of 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough, found raped, strangled, and killed in a wooded area in 1991, in Federal Way.

On Wednesday, King County jurors convicted 59-year-old Patrick Leon Nicholas of murder in the first degree with sexual intent and murder in the second degree, while dropping one count of premeditated first-degree murder.

In October 2019, the King County Sheriff’s Office arrested Nicholas for the teen’s murder after utilizing advanced ancestry DNA techniques. According to the Kent Reporter, the defense unsuccessfully argued that Nicholas did not fit the killer’s description and questioned the qualifications of the state’s forensic expert. The prosecution’s case against Nicholas centered mainly on DNA evidence.

Police had received hundreds of tips and investigated numerous suspects over the decades before focusing on Nicholas. However, he wasn’t a prime suspect until the founder of Identifiers International, Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, found segments of Nicholas’s DNA in 2019 matched the evidence from the crime scene, including DNA from discarded cigarettes.

“Beyond the DNA, there is nothing,” Defense attorney David Montes said during closing statements. “And so the DNA has to be right beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The prosecution argued that the male DNA sample obtained from the crime scene was a match to Nicholas’s DNA sample, with the odds of a random individual from the US population matching being 1 in 120 quadrillion.

Prosecutors said Nicholas strangled Sarah to death with her own nylons, then dumped her body on a hill next to the Federal Way High School parking lot on December 14, 1991. Nicholas left semen on several pieces of her clothing, which was used to identify him as the perpetrator through DNA analysis.

Sarah was alone in the parking lot, shortly before school was to start when Nicholas pulled her into nearby bushes and attacked her. Later, two 12-year-old boys found her “motionless on her back,” KING 5 Seattle reports.

“She probably suffered a lot in the end, and I’d like to say that I’m sorry she had to go through that suffering,” childhood friend Mary Beth Thome said after the verdict. “I’m glad somebody’s being held accountable for it. Other than that, I would just say we love you, and we miss you, and it’s because of her that we’re all together.

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[Feature Photo: Sarah Yarborough/Family Handout]