Victims’ daughters open testimony in murder retrial
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Defense attorney Richard Davies (with Superior Court Judge Keith Harper in the background) and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ashcraft deliver their respective openings in Monday’s retrial. -- Photos by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The first two witnesses to start the murder retrial of Michael J. Pierce were the victims’ daughters, who talked Monday about their parents and the last time they spoke.

“I last talked to my mother on the day she died,” testified Michelle Ham on Monday of a conversation she had on March 18, 2009.

“I had called her to tell her my father-in-law had just passed away, and she told me how hard it was for a family to go through something like that.”

Through tears, Ham noted that “the last conversation I had with my mother was about death.”

The trial before Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith C. Harper is expected to continue until Aug. 1.

It is the second for Pierce on first-degree murder charges in the killings of Pat and Janice Yarr on March 18, 2009, in the Yarrs’ farmhouse, which later was set afire, near Lake Leland.

Pierce, 38, was convicted in 2010 and was serving a life sentence in Walla Walla State Penitentiary when the state Court of Appeals reversed the conviction last July 27 after Pierce’s attorneys successfully argued that his post-arrest statements should have been suppressed.

Ham said that her mother was planning a reunion with her five sisters that would have taken place the weekend after the killings.

Patty Waters, Ham’s sister, testified that she talked to her parents at around 6:10 on that night.

The Yarrs’ exact time of death is uncertain. Reports state that they were killed before their house was set afire in a blaze that began around 8 p.m.

The two women’s testimony, which also began the original 2010 trial, followed opening statements by the prosecution and the defense.

The prosecutor attempted to create a timeline for the evening of the murder and Pierce’s whereabouts at the time.

The defense argued that there is no physical evidence tying Pierce to the

In his statement, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ashcraft said Pierce lived on the Yarrs’ property two years before the killings and helped on the farm.

But he was living in Sequim in 2009.

Ashcraft said Pierce traveled to Quilcene that night to help his mother, Ila Rettig, change a flat tire, and that the times given by Rettig and Pierce’s girlfriend, Tiffany Rondeau of Sequim, were inconsistent.

On the same day, Pierce was spotted on the security camera at Henery’s Hardware in Quilcene, where he allegedly stole a pellet gun.

At 8:10 that evening, the Yarrs’ debit card was used to withdraw $300 from the U.S. Bank in Quilcene, and although the pictures on the antiquated security tape were not clear, an identification of Pierce was made.

Ashcraft said a man matching Pierce’s description was seen walking along U.S. Highway 101, but he hid his face behind his clothes.

Pierce visited friends that evening, who said that it appeared that he had just taken a shower, the prosecutor said as he laid out evidence.

Ashcraft then said Pierce was taken to a hospital 10 days after the murders and made a confession at that time — something that defense attorney Richard Davies refuted.

Ashcraft said none of the clothes, including a custom embroidered jacket that Pierce was wearing earlier that day, has ever been recovered.

“When something like this happens, blood is sprayed everywhere, and all the clothes were covered in blood, so he had to get rid of all of them,” Ashcraft said of Pierce.

“And he did all this so he could take $300 out of their bank account.”

Davies, who, like Ashcraft, gave a 35-minute opening statement, said, “Whoever did this would have blood and gas over them, and there is none of this evidence on anything that Michael Pierce owns.

“There is nothing to link him to the crime. If he had sloshed the gas around or was covered in blood, there would be traces, and none were found.”

Davies criticized the evidence team, saying it did not properly triangulate cellphone signals to determine their location, and that no other suspect was considered after Pierce was arrested.

“Michael didn’t rob the Yarrs or burn their house down. He wasn’t there that night at all,” Davies said.

After the jury left the room Monday morning, Ashcraft asked Harper to instruct counsel to refer to those in the courtroom by their surnames, saying the practice of using first names was too informal.

Harper told the attorneys “to use your discretion” in the future.

The afternoon session centered around responses to the fire and what time it began.

Neighbor Merle Frantz said he drove by the Yarr house before 8 p.m. that night but didn’t call it in “because I didn’t want to be an alarmist.”

Frantz said he had an appointment with Pat Yarr the next day to haul some wood and was surprised when Yarr didn’t show up because he was always reliable.

DeEtte Broderson of Brinnon said he talked to Pat Yarr at around 7:15 that evening, but the conversation was cut off when an appointment to meet the next day was confirmed.

“I think he got another call or had to do something else,” Broderson said.

“He was like that: When the conversation was through, he was through.”

Davies pressed Broderson about his previous testimony, where transcripts revealed a wider time frame when the conversation would have occurred.

“I can’t say exactly when I talked to him, but generally it was after 7, when he finished dinner and before 9, when he went to bed,” he said.

“If I had called him at 6:30, I would have been scolded the next day.”

The trial is scheduled to continue at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Port Townsend at 9 a.m. today.

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 15. 2013 6:27PM
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