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News / Northwest

How police caught the killer of Federal Way teenager after 28 years featured on ’48 Hours’

By Kristine Sherred, The News Tribune
Published: November 20, 2023, 7:39am

It took 28 years for police to solve the homicide of 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough, who was killed outside her Federal Way high school in December 1991. Her assailant, Patrick Nicholas, was found guilty of her murder at age 59 and sentenced to more than 45 years in prison earlier this year.

The story of the teenager’s death and Nicholas’ troubling history — he served only a third of a 10-year prison sentence for attempting to rape a young woman in 1983 — is the subject of tonight’s episode of “48 Hours” on CBS with reporter Natalie Morales.

“The Hunt for Sarah Yarborough’s Killer” airs Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. Pacific Time (10 p.m. Eastern Time) on CBS. It will also be available to stream on Paramount+.

Morales interviewed Yarborough’s parents, the friend who stayed at her house the night before the murder, other acquaintances and police, according to a video preview of the episode.

Yarborough arrived early to drill practice on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14, 1991. As she waited in her car, a man pulled her into the brush near the tennis courts. Police found her partially-clothed body within an hour of being alerted that she was missing. She had been strangled to death, her “nylon stockings tied in a ligature around her neck,” an officer involved with the case recalled.

“We’re 16, we’re carefree,” said the friend who was last with her on Friday, Dec. 13. She remembers going to the grocery store and getting fast-food with Yarborough that night.

“There was absolutely nothing that would make any of us think that the next morning, everything would change,” she said. “You don’t know if it’s your next door neighbor; you don’t know if it’s some random stranger. There was that constant fear of: Is this gonna happen again?”

Other friends interviewed for the CBS special recount how in the first week or so after the young woman’s death, it seemed police had gathered enough evidence and witnesses to lead to the killer’s capture.

“And then when they didn’t and they didn’t,” one of the friends says in the episode preview, “your expectations change.”

Though Yarborough was not raped, according to the investigation at the time, police were able to extract “a full male DNA profile from semen found on Sarah’s clothes,” CBS News wrote on the episode page. “For year’s King County Sheriff’s detectives continually compared that unknown DNA profile against the CODIS database but there wasn’t a match.”

In 2019, authorities connected Nicholas to the sample through forensic genetic genealogy, which uses software to compare unidentified DNA profiles to information from public databases and family lineages. Undercover officers eventually snagged a cigarette he had smoked and ultimately discovered the match.

He was arrested and charged in October 2019. In May, a King County jury found him guilty of first-degree and second-degree murder. He was sentenced the following month to 45 years and 8 months in prison.

“The expectation is that he will serve all 45 years, 8 months with a maximum of 5-6 years of Earned Release Time,” the King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson told The Federal Way Mirror after the hearing.

Nicholas, who was convicted of rape in King County in 1980 at age 16 and then attempted rape in Benton County three years later, would be 105 years old at the end of his sentence. Had he served the entire 10-year sentence for the Benton County case, he would have still been behind bars on Dec. 14, 1991.