KENT, Wash. — On the fourth day of the trial of Patrick Nicholas, who is accused of killing 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough, witnesses who found her body and saw the suspect testified.
Yarborough was killed near Federal Way High School in 1991. Two witnesses, who were 12 and 13 years old at the time, explained what they saw.
Witness Andrew Miller recounted the events of that morning. He said he and a friend were cutting through a trail near campus tennis courts to get to class. Then, they saw a man abruptly stand up in nearby bushes.
"We just stopped because he's standing up in the middle of the bushes at that time in the morning," Miller said. "What's he doing there? It was pretty creepy."
The boys then continued walking to school and in the bushes where the man was standing, they found her body. They were able to help investigators create a sketch of the suspect back in 1991.
Yarborough's death was a mystery for decades. For years, tips came in and people were ruled out as possible suspects. Then in 2019, genetic genealogy helped generate a lead that resulted in the arrest of then-55-year-old Nicholas.
On Wednesday, detectives who investigated the case close to 30 years ago took the stand, along with a DNA analyst.
A suspect’s DNA was identified in fingernail clippings that were taken from Yarborough’s body.
Detectives used familial DNA and collected Nicholas' discarded cigarettes which led to a match, according to prosecutors. Nicholas’ defense maintains he is not the person who killed Sarah Yarborough.
In trial on Wednesday, Washington State Crime Lab Analyst Jodi Sass testified about finding a suspect’s DNA under Sarah’s fingernails. The defense also questioned Sass about the reliability of genealogy testing. She said she wasn’t very familiar with that type of test.
A detective who originally worked the case also testified about finding Sarah’s cheer uniform and recovering the curlers that were in her hair when she was killed from the scene of the crime.
On Tuesday, other detectives who originally worked on the case testified about responding to the scene nearly 30 years ago.
"I was the first officer on the scene,” said Major John Mattsen.
Mattsen received the call to go to Federal Way High School on Dec. 14, 1991. Retired Detective Michal Hatch also responded to the murder scene.
Investigators say early on a Saturday morning, Sarah parked her car at Federal Way High where she was planning to meet her drill team for a competition. Around 9:20 a.m., she was found near campus. Detectives say she was strangled and raped.
Police photos from that day show the crime scene and Sarah's white car. Hatch said he thought it was possible that the suspect’s DNA could be under her fingernails.
“Not that it is a guarantee, but there is certainly potential for it,” Hatch said.
On Tuesday the defense questioned the methods detectives originally used to investigate the case.
Defense Attorney David Montes asked if polygraphs were used to clear suspects, which Hatch confirmed.
Montes also questioned Hatch about the possibility that one detective used hypnosis in the investigation.
“I don’t know for sure,” Hatch said.
Retired Detective Susan Peters was the lead detective on the case and said in the first couple of weeks they had lots of resources dedicated to it.