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Trial begins for man accused of killing Federal Way teen over 30 years ago

Sarah Yarborough, 16, was found dead at Federal Way High School in December of 1991, and in 2019, Patrick Leon Nicholas was arrested for her murder.

KENT, Wash. — The trial against the alleged killer of Federal Way High School student Sarah Yarborough begins Monday, over three decades after she was killed.

Sarah Yarborough, 16, was found dead at her high school on Dec. 14, 1991, around 9:20 a.m.

In 2019, over 30 years after her murder, an arrest was made in the case. Patrick Leon Nicholas, who was 55 at the time of his arrest and 27 when he allegedly killed Yarborough, was charged with first-degree murder and rape.

Yarborough was last seen leaving her home to go to her high school, en route to a drill team competition. Her car was parked in the school parking lot. 

Her body was discovered by two boys - a 12-year-old and 13-year-old who took a shortcut through bushes at the school. The boys and another jogger who was near the scene at the time of the murder were able to help investigators create a composite sketch of the suspect. 

Credit: KING
Side-by-side comparison of the composite sketch of Sarah Yarborough's suspected killer and the man arrested for her murder in 2019.

The sketch led to over 4,000 tips, but officers were unsuccessful in making an arrest.

Then there was a break in the case when a forensic genealogy company contracted by the King County Sheriff's Office called with a lead on a person of interest named Patrick Nicholas who lived in King County, court documents said. 

Detectives started surveilling Nicholas outside a strip mall in Kent. Nicholas smoked a few cigarettes and tossed the butts on the ground along with a napkin. Detectives later collected those items, which became crucial pieces of evidence, according to court documents. 

The King County Sheriff's Office sent the cigarette butts and napkin to the state crime lab, which confirmed the DNA matched samples collected from Yarborough's clothing at the crime scene in 1991.  

Nicholas was arrested at a bar in Kent Wednesday evening without incident. 

Court documents show Nicholas was arrested on child molestation charges years after Yarborough was murdered.

Opening statements in the trial will begin on Monday morning and will be held in King County Superior Court at the Kent Regional Justice Center.

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