Released Early from Prison: The Chilling Truth Behind the Washington State Teen's Killer

Had Patrick Nicholas served his full sentence of 10 years for a previous attempted rape of another woman he would not have been free to strangle 16-year-old Yarborough.

Released Early from Prison: The Chilling Truth Behind the Washington State Teen's Killer
17 Nov 2023, 04:49 PM
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The Hunt for Sarah Yarborough's Killer

The Hunt for Sarah Yarborough's Killer

The community of Federal Way, Washington, was deeply shaken by the tragic murder of Sarah Yarborough in 1991. The 16-year-old girl was found strangled on the campus of the local high school, still partially dressed in her drill team uniform. This haunting image left a lasting impact on both the investigators and the loved ones of Sarah.

Over the course of several decades, countless King County investigators dedicated themselves to solving the case. They tirelessly pursued over 4,000 leads, but the identity of Sarah's killer remained a mystery for 28 years. Finally, an arrest was made, shedding light on the suspect's disturbing criminal history. This revelation sparked outrage in one woman, who believes it exposes a failure within the criminal justice system.

"The Hunt for Sarah Yarborough's Killer" is a compelling documentary that delves into this long-standing case. It is presented by "48 Hours" contributor Natalie Morales and will air on CBS at 10/9c on Saturday, Nov. 18. The documentary can also be streamed on Paramount+.

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On a chilly December morning in 1991, tragedy struck when a 16-year-old girl was found strangled to death on the grounds of Federal Way High School, located about 20 miles south of Seattle. The victim, named Sarah, was discovered in an area of dense vegetation, approximately 300 feet away from her car in the school parking lot. It was perplexing how Sarah had ended up so far from her vehicle, as she had arrived at school that morning under the impression that she was running late for a meeting with her drill team.

Although Sarah had not been sexually assaulted, investigators were able to extract a complete male DNA profile from semen found on her clothing. Over the years, King County Sheriff's detectives diligently compared this unknown DNA profile against the CODIS database, but unfortunately, no match was found. It wasn't until 2019 that a breakthrough finally occurred.

Utilizing the technique of forensic genetic genealogy, which involves comparing unidentified DNA profiles to data from public DNA databases and searching through family trees to identify potential suspects, investigators identified a man named Patrick Nicholas as a potential culprit. Undercover officers discreetly monitored Nicholas and managed to obtain a cigarette that he had smoked. The DNA from the cigarette was a match to the male profile found on Sarah's clothing. Consequently, Nicholas was apprehended and charged with the murder of Sarah Yarborough.

Shortly after Nicholas' arrest, law enforcement officers from neighboring Oregon visited Anne Croney and informed her that Seattle detectives were interested in speaking with her. Croney was acquainted with Nicholas because eight years prior to Sarah Yarborough's murder, he had held Croney at knifepoint.

Attempted Rape at Riverfront Park

Attempted Rape at Riverfront Park

In June 1983, a terrifying incident occurred at a park by the riverfront in Richland, Washington. A woman named Croney had gone to the park to find solace by the water. Little did she know, her peaceful moment would be shattered by a stranger.

As Croney sat on the hood of her car, a young man approached her and introduced himself as Pat Nicholas. They engaged in casual conversation about the area, but Croney soon sensed something was off. Nicholas' voice began to tremble, causing her discomfort.

Feeling the need to leave, Croney made her way to the driver's seat of her car. However, Nicholas followed her and cornered her at the driver's side. He held a knife to her throat and demanded that she undress. To prevent her from screaming, he stuffed her underwear into her mouth.

In a brave act of survival, Croney remembered that Nicholas couldn't swim. Seizing the opportunity, she dove into the river and swam as far as she could, fighting for her life. "I swam for my life," recalls Croney.

Law enforcement quickly apprehended Nicholas, who later pleaded guilty to attempting to rape Croney. Further investigation revealed that he had recently been released from a nearby treatment facility, where he had served time as a juvenile for raping two women and attempting to rape a third.

Nicholas had a pattern of approaching victims near their cars, striking up conversations, and then resorting to violence. His arrest brought justice to the multiple victims he had terrorized.

During his time in police custody, Nicholas confessed to having a problem with sexually assaulting girls. He admitted that he had intended to force a girl to have sex with him in the park and recognized that his actions were wrong. He expressed a desire to seek help for his problem. At his sentencing hearing, Croney, the victim of his attack, spoke and a judge sentenced him to the maximum term of 10 years in prison. Croney believed that justice had been served and moved on with her life, rarely thinking about Nicholas.

However, in 2019, detectives informed Croney about the murder of Sarah Yarborough. In her first interview about the case, Croney reveals that learning about Sarah's murder completely changed her perspective on what had happened to her. She was devastated, realizing that she had escaped from a murderer.

Furthermore, Croney had believed that Nicholas had served his full 10-year prison sentence. But she later discovered that he had been released on parole after only three-and-a-half years. "48 Hours" obtained copies of Nicholas' file, which indicated that he had not committed any major infractions in prison and did not have substance abuse issues. One evaluation even stated that he would be safe to be released given ongoing therapy and parole supervision. In 1987, Nicholas was released early from prison with the condition that he participate in an outpatient sex offender treatment program. The duration of his involvement in the program is unclear.

The System's Failure: A Tragic Case of Injustice

The System's Failure: A Tragic Case of Injustice

According to Croney, there is no doubt that if Nicholas had served his entire sentence, he would have still been in prison on that fateful December morning in 1991. This would have prevented him from committing the heinous murder of Sarah Yarborough. Croney expresses his disappointment in the system, stating that it had truly failed in this case. He firmly believes that Nicholas should have remained behind bars.