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Man convicted in 1977 murder makes another plea for parole

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Douglas Alan Yoakam

Douglas Alan Yoakam


UTAH STATE PRISON — Douglas Alan Yoakam, 66, has been incarcerated for nearly four decades.

On Tuesday, Yoakam made yet another plea for parole before Utah Board of Pardons and Parole member Jesse Gallegos, the same board member who heard Yoakam's last attempt at parole in 2006, which was denied.

The challenge for the board, however, is deciding whether Yoakam, who has been diagnosed several times as being delusional and schizophrenic, would still pose a threat to society if he is released.

Yoakam, a licensed gun dealer, was in Millcreek Canyon in 1977 when he unloaded a Mac-10 submachine gun on Karen Roberson and Justin Tauffer, killing Tauffer and critically injuring Roberson.

"It shoots the whole thing (15 rounds) in less than a second," he proclaimed during Tuesday's hearing.

He was sentenced to up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

In a recording of the 47-minute hearing, Yoakam seemed on edge or anxious at times, and at other times made statements — some of them bizarre — about several topics ranging from polygamist sect leader Ervil LeBaron to proclaiming, "I'm in favor of Obama tightening the gun laws."

"Why am I considered a risk to society all of a sudden?" he blurted to Gallegos just as the hearing was getting started. "They said I got a dishonorable discharge (at his last parole hearing) and the guy kept raving and whining for about five minutes, and I figured that's why I was given 10 years."

At the time of the shootings, Yoakam was on medical leave from his job and was paranoid that someone was out to kill him — so much so that he carried a cache of weapons with him everywhere he went and wore a bulletproof vest.

On Tuesday, Yoakam said part of that paranoia was caused by LeBaron, the former leader of a polygamous sect that ordered the murders of rival polygamists in the 1970s, including Rulon Allred. Yoakam claimed that Allred attempted to buy a machine gun from him shortly before he was killed in 1977. Because of that contact, Yoakam was afraid that LeBaron would come after him, he said. LeBaron, who was sentenced to life in prison himself, died in the Utah State Prison in 1981.

In May of 1977, while in Millcreek Canyon, the paranoid Yoakam thought he heard gunfire and then saw Roberson, who was simply out for a walk, pass by.

"I believe somebody took a shot at me. Then the woman came along. I wasn't sure if she was involved in it or not. But I grabbed her to get her out of the way," Yoakam said Tuesday.

Yoakam attempted to put Roberson in handcuffs.

"She started yelling for someone to come down and help her," he said.

That's when Tauffer came by and attempted to help, and was shot and killed. All of this happened while Yoakam's 15-month-old daughter was in the back seat of his car, and his wife was home pregnant with another child.

In preparation for his parole hearing, Yoakam was asked to fill out some paperwork, per protocol. On one of the papers he was asked to list his victims and explain how he thinks his actions have affected them. Gallegos noted that he only wrote, "Justin Tauffer. He's dead."

"Nothing I can do to bring him back," Yoakam responded when asked about what he wrote.

When Galleogs asked Yoakam why he failed to mention Roberson — someone who was shot nine times — he simply stated, "I don't know.

"I try to put it out of my memory because of the way she was acting, at least the way I thought she was acting," Yoakam said.

Gallegos admitted Tuesday that it had been some years since the board last had contact with Roberson. No family members of the victims or Yoakam attended Tuesday's hearing. Yoakam said he no longer has contact with his daughters.

During his latest psychological evaluation given in preparation for the hearing, it was noted that medication prescribed to Yoakam in 1977 could have caused psychosis in a person who already suffered from schizophrenia.

"I was given an antidepressant which I've told was a painkiller, which is known to cause people to go crazy," Yoakam proclaimed Tuesday. "If I knew about this people with the medication when I pleaded guilty I would never have, I would have taken it to (trial). … I think I can use this as new evidence to get back into court."

Gallegos recognized Tuesday that Yoakam has been doing well with his current meds. And he said he appreciated that Yoakam recognized a halfway house would be the most appropriate next step if he was released, with the option of returning to prison if he felt too stressed in a world that is now completely different than the one he knew in 1977.

But Gallegos said he didn't know if he will recommend to the full five-member board that Yoakam should be paroled.

"I have to be honest with you, Mr. Yoakam, I have some concerns about your mental stability," he said. "I just don't know what to do, bud. I'm sorry. This is a tragic case. It really is, it's tragic."

The board is expected to make its decision in about six weeks.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam