Heartbreak in court

42 years imposed in 2011 Paonia slashing death

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May 16, 2018 — On Mother’s Day, a young girl lovingly selected an orange flowerpot and, with her uncle, delivered it to her mom. In presenting it, the child first swept away the grass and dirt that had accumulated on Melinda Tackett Yager’s gravestone.

Tackett Yager died Jan. 7, 2011, at the hands of her estranged husband and the little girl’s father, Nathan Yager, who on Tuesday was sentenced to 42 years in prison.

After he unsuccessfully sought a restraining order earlier Jan. 7, 2011, Yager encountered Tackett Yager at their former home. The two were going through an acrimonious divorce and had during the process sought restraining orders against each other. Both were unsuccessful, although Tackett Yager secured an order granting her exclusive use of their Paonia residence.

From over a fence, she snapped a picture of Yager at the backdoor as proof he was violating the order affixed to the door. Yager then chased Tackett Yager down, struck her so hard his hand broke, and slashed her throat so violently she was almost decapitated.

At Yager’s sentencing Tuesday, Matthew Tackett, Melinda’s twin brother, told of how on Mother’s Day, while at the grave, he talked to his niece about what her mother was doing in heaven. “We also share her great pain because (Tackett Yager) is not there,” the victim’s brother said.

Yager’s mother, Julie, along with a family friend, spoke on behalf of the defendant during the 90-minute hearing held in a Delta District courtroom ringed with at least 10 armed officers in uniform and plainclothes.

Yager’s supporters agreed with Tackett Yager’s family: the greatest victim among survivors was the little girl, who was exactly 15 months old — and the subject of a custody battle — the day her mother was slain on the railroad tracks behind the former family home in Paonia.

Beyond that point, the families differed sharply.The Tacketts said Yager’s family enabled his “lies and deceit,” as well as Yager’s continued insistence that he was a victim. Like him, the family did not feel remorse, Matthew Tackett said.

Julie Yager said the Tacketts had been hard to deal with and were unfairly blaming her family. “We are sorry for their pain and their suffering,” she said.

She characterized her son as a compassionate person, who was a good father and took his responsibilities to “the light of his life” seriously.

“The victim in all this is our granddaughter, who lost her whole world on Jan. 7, 2011,” Julie Yager said.

“Melinda’s death caused many ripples… we are part of that circle.” But her granddaughter “took a direct hit,” she said, asking for “mercy” for Yager and referring to a psychological prison of “control.”

“It’s devastating when control is about hatred, anger and revenge,” Julie Yager said.

Nathan Yager is a “butcher,” a “monster” and a “beast,” Tackett family members said, asking Delta District Judge Steven Schultz for the maximum allowable sentence.

Photographs and memories of Tackett Yager abound, but for the little girl who will never know her mother, they are a poor substitute, sister Melissa Fisher said, via a statement Dale Tackett read.

Fisher in the statement said she wanted to see Yager rot in a cage until he “ultimately burns in hell” for taking away her elder sister and first best friend.

“He doesn’t know what love is. My sister Melinda did,” Fisher said, going on to accuse Yager’s family of “lies, manipulation and deceit.”

Fisher chose not to come to court: “I can’t bear to see the face of evil,” she said, per the statement.

Dale Tackett also spoke. The family was trying to support Melinda during her contentious, bitter divorce with Yager and had been waiting for her to call them about the court hearing Jan. 7, 2011.

No call came. Instead, a police cruiser with a young officer, who seemed reluctant to come to the door, arrived at the Tackett home in California that evening.

“The man was crying. I knew right away something was wrong. I said, ‘Which one of my children is dead?’” Dale Tackett said.

His wife collapsed at the news and had to receive medical attention. It fell to Dale to contact his other children, arrange a funeral, and get information from law enforcement about “how she was brutally butchered” and how her body laid all night in the snow, until the crime scene was cleared.

Through it all, he had to maintain composure, despite his own grief, because his granddaughter cried nightly for her mother.

“It tears my heart out,” Dale Tackett said, asking Judge Schultz for the maximum sentence.

Matthew Tackett read a statement from his younger sister, Maryann, who said Yager had attacked and butchered a woman who could not defend herself. Maryann Tackett in her statement spoke of all the things she is able to do that her sister cannot — including watching Tackett Yager’s young daughter grow.

“I get to do all these things because that butcher is locked away,” she said.

Matthew Tackett said he harbors no illusion that the sentencing marks closure.

Yager had been previously convicted of Melinda’s murder in 2012, but successfully appealed after the law changed to allow a defense of temporary insanity. He was retried earlier this year and again convicted.

All of Yager’s “kicking and screaming” in his attempt to be cast as the victim means nothing, Matthew Tackett said, a sentiment District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller later echoed.

“It’s a sound and a fury signifying nothing because Nathan has been convicted again,” Tackett said, before offering his version of what he thought his sister might say.

“I was a mother. It’s all I ever wanted to be. … When Nathan took my life, he brought devastation and torment on my baby girl. … Put him back in his cage. He can only do more damage.”

Although the temporary insanity defense failed at trial, public defender Kori Zapletal said more than one psychiatrist had diagnosed Yager with a dissociative disorder and major clinical depression. She asked the judge to consider mitigating factors, such as Yager’s lack of violent history prior to the murder, and to impose a sentence on the low- to mid-range.

“There was no plan and I had no intention,” Yager said on his own behalf. “There was nothing to gain and everything was lost… I hope to receive mercy from this court. For all affected by this case, I am sorry. I ask God for forgiveness…”

Schultz in sentencing noted that, despite Yager’s defense, not one, but two juries had convicted him of second-degree murder without a mitigating circumstance, such as heat of passion.

Yager had the right to seek an appeal, the judge said, and would not be punished for doing so.

“However, you have had your day in court. You have been told by 24 people you are responsible for the death of Melinda Yager, for committing this horrible act,” Schultz said.

“She is the victim in this case. You committed a betrayal I cannot understand, let alone excuse… You took her life out of anger.”

The judge imposed 42 years, the same sentence Yager drew after his first trial, less the nearly seven years he has already served.

Schultz also said Tackett Yager’s daughter was a victim who would likely be affected the rest of her life, and in incalculable ways. He denied a motion to modify a court order barring Yager from having contact with the girl, saying it was not in her best interest.

“It may be she will be able to speak with you some day, but that will be her decision,” Schultz said.

Prior to the imposition of sentence, Matthew Tackett held up his orange-striped tie, explaining it had been his sister’s favorite color — and the reason his niece selected that color of flowerpot to put on her mother’s grave a few days earlier.“

(Melinda) would be glad to see Nathan wearing so much orange today,” he said, indicating the defendant’s jail jumpsuit. “It means he’s going away.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

Montrose Daily Press | May 16, 2018
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2018-05-24T16:15:41+00:00