The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a Paonia man who murdered his wife a decade ago, his second conviction for the same crime.
Nathan Jude Yager, now 48, initially was convicted of second-degree murder in 2012, but had that conviction reversed in 2016 because the trial court would not consider his temporary insanity defense.
At the time, Colorado didn’t allow such a defense, but he won a new trial after the Colorado Supreme Court held that defendants can claim that mental defects or conditions underlying an insanity plea can be temporary.
As a result, Yager tried to use the same defense at his second trial over punching and slitting his wife’s throat in a fit of rage in 2011, but the jury rejected it, again convicting him of second-degree murder and giving him a 42-year sentence.
On appeal of that second conviction, Yager and his court-appointed attorney tried to argue that Delta County District Judge Steven Schultz erred by excluding evidence meant to show how his wife, Melinda Tackett Yager, 34 at the time of her death, had provoked his actions.
A three-judge panel of the appellate court ruled, however, that Schultz was correct in excluding the evidence, which included statements she allegedly made after Yager turned off power to the couple’s home, and a pocket knife and gun magazine that were found in her car. All three were meant to show that the wife, and not Yager, was the real aggressor in their relationship. The trial court, and later the appellate judges agreed that the so-called evidence was irrelevant to the case.
“Even if it could be considered a weapon, we fail to see how mere possession of a pocket knife, without more, is indicative of aggressive behavior,” Judge Ted C. Tow III wrote in the ruling, which was joined by Judges John Daniel Dailey and Michael H. Berger. “The mere presence of a magazine in the vehicle is not probative either of whether she acted as an aggressor in the relationship, or of whether she was fearful of him.”
They said the pocket knife is a tool and not a weapon, and she didn’t have it with her when she was killed; the gun magazine was in her car, but there was no gun; and the statement only indicted what was clear already, that the couple were having marital problems.
The two had just gone through a contentious divorce and were in a custody battle over their daughter at the time of the murder.
Yager is being held in the Limon Correctional Facility. His next parole hearing is in July 2039.