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Killer of teen in 1991 caught with cigarette DNA, sentenced to 45 years

A Seattle-area man who killed a teen girl while attempting to rape her in 1991 was sentenced Thursday to 45 years and 8 months in prison.

Patrick Nicholas, now in his late 50s, was convicted earlier this month of murdering Sarah Yarborough outside her high school when she was just 16.

Nicholas’ sentence was outside the typical sentencing range, local Fox affiliate KOMO reported. But the judge took into account that Nicholas had previously been convicted of attempted rape and accused of child molestation.

On Dec. 14, 1991, Yarborough was walking to a dance competition at Federal Way High School, about 20 miles south of Seattle, when she was ambushed and killed. Investigators said she was strangled to death with her stockings. The drill team uniform she was wearing was covered in semen.

Despite the plethora of DNA evidence and two 12-year-old boys catching a glance of the killer, authorities could not identify a suspect, and the case went cold. Nicholas’ DNA was not in police databases despite his previous arrests.

The King County Sheriff’s Office reopened the case in 2019. They used genetic genealogy to identify two brothers as potential suspects.

Investigators ruled out Nicholas’ brother because his DNA was already in the system and didn’t match. Officers instead focused on Nicholas and observed him smoking cigarettes and tossing the butts on the ground outside a strip mall. DNA on the cigarette butts matched DNA from the 1991 crime scene.

Nicholas, 55 at the time, was arrested in October 2019. He was charged with and later convicted of first-degree murder with sexual motivation.

“Countless hours have been spent by law enforcement attempting to solve this horrific crime,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Erin Ehlert wrote in charging documents. “His crime was one of opportunity and extreme violence.”

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