Nicholas sentenced to nearly 46 years in 1991 cold case murder of Federal Way teen Sarah Yarborough

Patrick Leon Nicholas was sentenced Thursday to 548 months for the 1991 cold case murder of Federal Way teen Sarah Yarborough.

“[This] outrageous violation of a child. This outrageous sexual assault upon a child, culminating in her murder a basis for an exceptional sentence,” said Judge Josephine Wiggs before handing down the virtual life sentence.

On May 10, Patrick Leon Nicholas was found guilty of murder by a jury.

On Dec. 14, 1991, 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough was found raped and murdered on the campus of Federal Way High School.

“I next recall the pain in my father’s voice over the phone telling me that Sarah was dead. I recall the sounds of my parents crying through the walls at night as I laid in bed,” said Sarah’s younger brother, Andrew Yarborough.  He was 11 when his older sister was killed.

She was last seen leaving her home to go to a high school dance competition. Her car was found in the school parking lot and her body was discovered in a wooded area on campus later that day.

In 2019, after using familial DNA, police matched DNA from the crime scene to a man named Patrick Leon Nicholas.

“We lived the last 30 years wondering when and if someone was going to be arrested and knowing that was kind of a Damocles sword hanging over your head and you never know when it’s going to fall,” said Sarah’s mom, Laura Yarborough.

Nicholas was charged with first-degree murder with sexual motivation.

His trial began Apr. 17 at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

“The trial’s like a marathon. It’s a slog. I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this draining or exhausting or go on so long,” said Laura.

“Had we had the opportunity and the ability years ago to run familial testing, we would have identified, conceivably, that brother, and it would have helped us to narrow down and figure out who ultimately was responsible for this particular crime,” said retired King County homicide detective Kathy Decker.

On the day of the murder, witnesses worked with investigators to help create a sketch of a potential suspect seen shortly before Yarborough’s body was found, partially hidden, near the school’s tennis courts.

This conviction is not Nicholas’ first time getting the maximum sentence, either. In 1983, he was convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released after a little more than three years.

The victim in that case, Anne Croney, also gave a victim impact statement, bravely facing Nicholas in court once again.

“Why was a repeat offender allowed to be released after serving less than half his sentence?” asked Anne. She also said Nicholas had two rape convictions prior to her attack that started with a seemingly friendly conversation at her car.

“He reached through the open driver’s window and put a knife to my throat and told me to take off my clothes,” she said. “And I ran as fast as I could and dove into the river and I swam harder than I ever swam before until I couldn’t anymore.”

“If he had still been in prison he wouldn’t have been around to kill our daughter,” Laura Yarborough said.

The family said nothing will bring Sarah back, or take away the pain they feel daily since her death; but they get some comfort knowing Nicholas won’t be able to hurt anyone else.

“Over the life of this convicted murderer he does not possess the ability to experience remorse or feel emotions the way normal people do. He does not belong in the free society with the rest of the people in this room,” said Sarah’s younger brother, Andrew.

Nicholas was also ordered to pay restitution to the Yarborough family. The amount will be determined at a later date. Sarah’s family added they’re extremely grateful to every investigator who has worked so hard over the last 30-plus years to bring Sarah’s killer to justice.