Prior to Saturday night, the worst homicide case in Yakima County’s recent history happened 26 years ago.
That was when four members of an Outlook family were bludgeoned and stabbed to death in their mobile home by a pair of 14-year-old boys.
Then came the news Saturday that five people were fatally shot in White Swan, a crime that Sheriff Bob Udell and former Yakima County Coroner Jack Hawkins said was the worst in recent memory.
“They are extremely violent offenders, and they’re rare,” Udell said of past homicides with multiple offenders. “Those people, thank God, are not the ones that we have to normally deal with.”
“We have a lot of homicides for the size of our county,” said Hawkins, who was coroner from 2009 to 2018, and had been a law enforcement officer since 1973, first with the sheriff’s office and then the Yakima and Toppenish police departments.
But multiple-victim homicides, Hawkins said, “are rare.”
In most cases where more than one person is killed, Udell said the killers have extensive criminal records and worked up to their level of violence.
Skelton Family, Outlook, 1993
Prosecutors say Joel Ramos and Miguel Gaitan, then 14 years old, forced their way into the Liberty Road home of Michael Skelton, his wife, Lynn, and two sons, Jason, 12, and Bryan, 6. Gaitan bludgeoned and stabbed Skelton, who needed a cane to walk after being injured in an industrial accident, as well as his wife, who was in the shower.
Gaitan, prosecutors say, also killed Jason, a classmate, when he came to his mother’s defense. Ramos bludgeoned Bryan, who was hiding under his bedsheets, with a piece of stove wood purportedly to ensure there were no witnesses.
Ramos pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in the deaths of Michael, Lynn and Jason Skelton, and intentional first-degree murder in Bryan Skelton’s death. He was inititally sentenced to 80 years in prison, but when his case was sent back to Superior Court in 2013 to consider factors such as juvenile brain development, Superior Court Judge Douglas Federspiel upheld the original sentence and added an additional five years because of the heinous nature of Bryan’s killing.
Gaitan was sentenced to four consecutive life-without-parole terms, but is awaiting resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles.
Goggin family, West Valley, 2011
In February 2011, Bill Goggin, co-owner of a Yakima civil engineering firm, his wife, Pauline and his 98-year-old mother Bettye were beaten to death when someone broke into their Falcon Ridge home.
Kevin Harper and three others were charged in the crime. Charges were dropped against Harper’s ex-wife and another co-defendant while one other defendant pleaded guilty to being an accessory to fencing stolen property.
But Harper, a seven-time felon at the time, accepted a deal to plead guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm and possessing stolen property in return for aggravated murder charges being dropped. The deal was offered after a series of missteps by prosecutors and the sheriff’s office, including detectives discounting a neighbor’s statement about suspicious activity at the Goggins’ home that would have provided Harper an alibi; a detective accessing jail recordings of phone calls between Harper and his attorneys; and prosecutors missing deadlines for turning over evidence to Harper’s attorneys.
Then-Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty attempted to rescind the plea deal after Harper’s ex-wife said he told her he killed three people the same night the Goggins were killed. Yakima County Superior Court Judge Ruth Reukauf said she had no choice but to leave the deal in place because Hagarty failed to file the cooperation agreement Harper allegedly violated.
Sanchey, Green and Alvarado, Toppenish, 2003
Charmaine Sanchey, 47, Tonie Marie Green, 43, and Steve Alvarado, 52, were found stabbed to death in a small trailer outside Toppenish, Jan. 16. 2003.
Arthur Joseph Sanchey, Sanchey’s brother, was the only suspect in the case, but was acquitted in July 2004.
Nickoloff family, Parker, 1988
Prosecutors say two men went to the Kays Road home of Mike Nickoloff, 84, and his wife, Dorothy, 72, in January 1988 and asked to borrow a telephone The two 17-year-olds stabbed the couple to death and stole two television sets and a pack of cigarettes, according to court documents.
Russell McNeil pleaded guilty the night before his trial and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, while a jury found Herbert “Chief” Rice guilty of aggravated murder but deadlocked 11-1 in favor of the death sentence, resulting in a sentence of life without parole.
Both men are awaiting resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed such sentences unconstitutional for juveniles.
Mike Eby, Ryan Pederson, Yakima, 2012
Mike Eby, 36, was shot to death in a Hathaway Street garage in Yakima in December 2012 when he reportedly got into a fight with a member of the La Raza gang. Prosecutors say Marcos Antonio Gallegos then had the body put in the trunk of Eby’s car and drove Ryan Pederson, 35, to an area near the Roza Dam where Heriberto Villa shot him on Gallegos’ orders.
Villa was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and agreeing to testify against Gallegos. Gallegos was convicted of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder and is serving two consecutive life-without-parole sentences.
Two other men, Troy Whalen and Jose Alonzo Pineda, were charged with aggravated first-degree murder, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in return for their testimony in Gallegos’ trial.
Jessica Rodriguez, Eduardo Flores, Toppenish, 2015
A fried said Jessica Rodriguez, 29, had gone to Toppenish the weekend of Aug. 2, 2015, to do her cousin’s hair and makeup for her wedding. While visiting at a family get-together early that morning, she and Eduardo Flores were shot outside a Satus Avenue home in what Toppenish police described as a drive-by shooting.
Flores, 21, died at the scene while Rodriguez was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where she died shortly after arriving.
The case remains unsolved.
Karina Morales-Rodriguez and Marta Martinez, Yakima, 2016
Karina Moralez-Rodriguez, 27, and Marta Martinez, 30, were opening the Money Tree at 129 S. First St. in March 2016 when they were shot to death outside the store. A co-worker, Manuel Enrique Verduzco, was charged with aggravated first-degree murder.
During his trial, defense attorneys argued that Verduzco killed the women because of his schizophrenia, while prosecutors said money was the motive for shooting the women.
Verduzco was sentenced to life without parole on each count.