Retrial of accused Jefferson County double-murderer parallels first trial

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ORCHARD –– The second day of the second retrial of Michael J. Pierce for the March 18, 2009 murders of a Quilcene farm couple had an awfully familiar sound to those with knowledge of the case.

The Jefferson County prosecution team today called witnesses to lay out a timeline of the night in which Pat and Janice Yarr were killed and their house set on fire, this time for a Kitsap County jury of nine men and seven women hearing the case in Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen's courtroom after it was moved from Jefferson County.

“Mom was cooking dinner, so we said goodbye and she gave the phone to my dad,” said Patty Waters, the Yarrs' daughter, of a conversation she had with them the night of the killings at their home on the Boulton Farm, near Lake Leland.

Around 6:10 p.m., Waters testified, she spoke with her mother, Janice, who said she should call her sister, Michelle Ham, whose father-in-law had recently died.

“That was the last time I spoke with them,” Waters said.

Waters and Ham's testimony opened Pierce's first trial in 2010 and the first attempt at a state Court of Appeals-mandated retrial in Jefferson County last July.

Pierce, 38, of Quilcene is charged with both slayings with firearm enhancements on each charge, as well as first-degree robbery and burglary, theft of a firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm and second-degree theft of an access device.

He was serving a life sentence fin the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, until the appellate court ordered a new trial.

The appellate court ruled the statements Pierce initially made to investigators could not be used against him because his request for an attorney after his arrest was not honored.

The appellate court also ruled that Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans, who was then chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, made “inappropriate” statements during Pierce's trial.

The retrial was moved to Kitsap County after a first retrial in Jefferson County was halted when a juror, Laura Meynberg of Port Townsend, remembered someone — possibly Pierce — walking along the side of U.S. Highway 101 one evening, though she could not recall the exact date.

Meynberg may take the stand as a witness in this retrial.

The court has not let the Kitsap jury know that Pierce has been tried on these charges before.

The Yarrs' daughters also testified that their parents, who raised livestock in addition to their logging business, kept guns in the house to stop coyote and cougar attacks on their cattle.

“We shot for fun,” Waters said, noting that her father would regularly shoot coyotes from his porch.

In his opening statement Friday, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Chris Ashcraft, said the Yarrs were shot with a gun that was later found to be missing from their home.

Each sister testified that her father hired local youth to do small jobs like washing equipment or bucking bales of hay.

Pierce occasionally worked for the Yarrs prior to their deaths.

“He tried to hire younger kids in the area,” Ham said, “but it was getting harder and harder to get kids to commit to those type of jobs.”

Willie Knoepfle, chief of the Discovery Bay fire department, testified about the firefight, saying at first he just thought it a typical house fire.

But after watching it move through the house, “it just started to seem suspicious.”

Neighbor Merle Frantz said he drove by the Yarrs' house before 8 p.m. that night but didn't call it in “because we didn't want to get everybody excited for nothing.”

John McConaghy did call in the fire, then stopped to see if he could stop it when he passed by the house around 8:15 p.m.

“We started banging on the windows and yelling to see if there was anybody in there,” McConaghy said.

He later retreated from the home after seeing “there wasn't much more I could do.”

DeEtte Broderson of Brinnon testified that he talked to Pat Yarr about hauling a load of logs at around 7:15 that evening — a short conversation, Broderson said.

The retrial is scheduled to resume at the Kitsap County Courthouse in Port Orchard at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 03. 2014 7:11PM
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