In late 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Nathan Yager, who is serving a prison sentence for the murder of his estranged wife, Melinda, in Paonia in 2011.
Yager pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the insanity plea was taken off the table just prior to closing arguments. The jury deliberated less than two hours before convicting Yager of second degree murder in November 2012.
Yager’s attorney successfuly argued on appeal that the trial court erroneously refused to instruct the jury on the defense of insanity.
The case has been transferred back to Delta County District Court and Yager is expected to follow soon, although he will remain in custody. The district attorney’s office has filed a motion to amend the complaint adding a charge of first degree murder — after deliberation, a class 1 felony.
District attorney Dan Hotsenpiller explains that under Colorado law, a defendant must be held without bail if he is charged with a capital offense (first degree murder) and the “proof is evident or the presumption is great” that the defendant committed the offense charged.
Hotsenpiller and the public defender attended a status hearing in front of Judge Steven Schultz last week. Judge Schultz emphasized that, by law, he has just six months to retry the case and the clock is ticking. While a plea could not be entered without Yager’s presence, scheduling concerns were addressed. The judge noted the previous trial took 2½ weeks; the only similar block of time he has available begins May 16 and runs into early June. Even then, he said he will have to move a couple of trial dates and locate an alternate courtroom because his will be tied up.
The trial date will be finalized at a hearing Jan. 31. At the same hearing, the judge will hear from the public defender, who is objecting to the amended complaint. A series of other motions/preliminary hearings was outlined to keep the process moving forward.
Yager was originally sentenced to 42 years in prison. According to the Colorado Department of Corrections website, he is housed at the Centennial Correctional Facility.
The defense never presented any alternate suspects, instead saying Yager’s actions were the result of “unprovoked passion.”