The county attorney’s office said this week it won’t seek the death penalty in the case of a Tucson man accused of murdering his cellmate at the Pima County jail.
King Yates is facing a first-degree murder charge in the April death of Branden Roth, a non-violent offender who authorities say Yates beat and asphyxiated while awaiting sentencing.
Yates is also facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the November 2016 shooting death of his wife, Cassandra Yates.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office previously filed two stipulations to extend time to provide death-penalty notice.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher was unable to provide the reasoning behind the office’s decision not to make this a capital case, when he later told the Star that “there are rules which clearly prohibit” him from discussing the decision.
HISTORY OF MENTAL HEALTH WOES
Yates’ mental health is now being scrutinized, with his attorney Vincent Frey filing a motion for a competency evaluation on Dec. 8.
The county attorney’s office didn’t oppose the motion because during the capital panel’s discussion regarding the death penalty there were questions about the extent of Yates’ mental health diagnosis, Mosher said in court Monday.
In a 2014 Pima County Superior Court drug and weapons violations case, Yates was initially found incompetent to stand trial, the motion says.
Yates was restored to competency dependent on continued medication treatment, with Dr. Michael Christiansen saying that Yates’ medication compliance was “essential” in sustaining his competency to stand trial, according to the motion.
At the time of the determination, Yates was prescribed 700 milligrams of Seroquel to control psychosis, the motion says.
Yates was not convicted of any of the charges, after the court dismissed five of the charges and he was acquitted on the other four, court records show.
When Roth was killed in April, medical staff at the jail were only providing Yates with 225 milligrams of Seroquel and jail records “do not reflect any medical reasons for such a low dosage,” the motion says.
“Information available on the Internet indicates that a therapeutic dosage of Seroquel to control psychosis is generally 400 to 800 (milligrams per day,)” the motion says, adding that the day after Roth’s death, jail medical staff increased Yates dosage to 400 milligrams per day.
Yates has a well-documented history of suffering from serious mental health issues, according to the motion.
Between Jan. 2015 and Oct. 2016, Yates went to the hospital eight times, claiming that his food had been poisoned, and on at least one occasion, reported that the FBI was involved in the poisoning, the motion says.
“The same paranoid and psychotic thoughts persist to the present day,” the motion says. “Mr. Yates is sometimes paranoid that his food at the jail is being poisoned.”
The motion says that Frey is concerned Yates might not be able to adequately understand the court proceedings and assist in his own defense.
“The fact that Mr. Yates is not receiving the medication that Dr. Christiansen found to be essential to maintaining competency leads counsel to believe that Mr. Yates may not be presently competent,” the motion says, adding that the fact that Yates was “apparently under-medicated” at the time of Roth’s death leads Frey to question if Yates’ mental health issues were a factor in the alleged offense.
During the hearing, Yates’ second attorney Stephanie Bond asked that the evaluation also explore what Yates’ mental health would be like on no medication, saying that he was not medicated at the time of Cassandra’s death.
Fell granted the motion.
Yates is scheduled for a status conference and competency hearing on Feb. 5.
In October, Roth’s family filed an $11 million claim against Pima County, saying that jail staff acted negligently in housing their son with an accused murderer.
While the county has 60 days to respond to the claim, lawyers for Roth’s family have received no response from the sheriff’s department, said Kenneth K. Graham, one of the attorneys on the case.
After the 60-day mark has passed, Graham said he’d be meeting with his co-counsel to decide when to file the formal lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court.