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Kevin McDonald

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Who was this unfortunate staff person?

19-year-old sentenced to life in prison for 2001 shooting
By Sharon Hall
Rachel Larae Yeager, 19, was sentenced to life imprisonment Friday for the 2001 murder of Kevin M. McDonald. She is pictured here just before being placed into a patrol car and taken to Lumpkin County Detention Center, where she will await transfer to a state facility. (Staff photo/SHARON HALL)  
Kevin M. McDonald [HLA staff] died on the day he would have turned 21 years old. His killer, Rachel Larae Yeager, will turn 21 in prison.

The 19-year-old received a life sentence Friday in Lumpkin County Superior Court for the Oct. 3, 2001, shooting of the young man she called her "best friend."

Lumpkin County Emergency Medical personnel and deputies responded to a call from Yeager reporting the shooting about 4:30 p.m. in the mobile home she shared with her father on Highway 19 North.

They found McDonald unconscious and laboring to breathe on a box spring and mattress in a back bedroom.

Yeager admitted to the shooting, but told deputies it was an accident, that she lost control of the rifle and it discharged.

She was originally charged with aggravated assault. Charges were upgraded to murder several days later.  
Yeager was set free by a Lumpkin County Grand Jury in February 2002 in a close vote. Results from the state crime lab were not available at that time.

She was subsequently indicted by the August 2002 Grand Jury, who had the opportunity to view crime lab results. Yeager was picked up by LCSO in Iowa and returned to Lumpkin County, although she remained free on bond.

In 2003 Yeager was offered a plea bargain by the District Attorney, but turned it down in favor of a jury trial.

Yeager's mother and father were present in the court June 1, 2004, as their daughter sat at the defense table. Several members of the McDonald family sat close together, giving visible support to the victim's mother, Karole.

It was a difficult case for the jury, said the Honorable Judge Hugh Stone. The six men and six women deliberated for about nine hours over two days before reaching a verdict from scant physical evidence presented by assistant district attorney Charles Smegal.

McDonald died as a result of a single bullet from a .22 spring-loaded rifle. The bullet entered his head near the right temple, but there was no exit wound, depriving investigators the ability to track the bullet's trajectory.

If hard evidence was lacking, circumstantial evidence was not. Yeager made several statements to officers, each slightly different.

The events leading up to McDonald's death remained the same in a statement taken by Lumpkin County Sheriff's Office Investigators Ryan Miller and Darren Martin, and later during an interview with Capt. Pat Garner, head of the investigation division.

McDonald came to visit Yeager after working the third shift at Hidden Lake Academy; they listened to music and watched T.V. They had several conversations about McDonald's plan to join the Navy and some entries Yeager made in a spiral bound notebook, something like a diary, about how fat and ugly and how unhappy with her life she was.

McDonald started to leave, but Yeager talked him into staying, saying he'd had several beers and shouldn't drive. When he attempted to leave the second time, Yeager asked for the key to her trailer back. McDonald asked her why, and they returned to the residence. Yeager gave him a note, asking him not to read it in her presence. She then went to the bathroom to give McDonald time to read it.

The note, read in open court, stated "I'm in love with you and I know it will never be returned in a million years. That is why it hurts so f------ bad. I am sorry. I know I wasn't supposed to."

When she returned from the bathroom she found McDonald asleep. She attempted to wake him, but couldn't; waited a while and tried to wake him again, successfully this time. She asked him to leave and they talked. McDonald told her he would leave, but not for good. He would be back to check on her. He said he couldn't give up.

Yeager replied she could, went to her father's room and picked up the .22 rifle. She was carrying it by the barrel while attempting to get out the back door and facing McDonald on the bed, she said, and the gun began to slip. She caught it, kind of bent over, Miller said she told him, and her finger went inside the trigger guard and the gun went off.

It is only the last part of Yeager's statement that changes with the telling.

At the scene Yeager first spoke with LCSO Deputy Wesley Burnett. Burnett tape-recorded their conversation after helping EMS load McDonald into an ambulance.

Yeager told Burnett she had taken the gun out to the back yard to shoot but the gun jammed. When she came in the back door, only inches from the bedroom door to the room where McDonald was reportedly sleeping, she lost control of the rifle and it went off, she told Burnett.

"The gun went off. I didn't mean to," Yeager's tearful voice said in the tape recording played to the court. "He's my best friend - the only friend I've got."

When the back door was later checked in his presence by LCSO investigators, Burnett testified, it was locked.

When Yeager gave her statement to Miller and Martin, before the interview began, Martin said, Yeager asked Miller if what she had said at the scene had been written down. When she was asked why she told the investigators she lied, that she had taken the gun from her father's bedroom in order to kill herself. She was struggling to open the back door, in very cramped quarters and while still facing McDonald on the bed, when she lost control of the rifle. She grabbed it, she said, and it went off.

That part of the story changed slightly again when she was interviewed by Garner after the crime lab information was returned to LCSO. Garner said he told Yeager he was concerned about her version of the incident because the results from the crime lab indicated a downward trajectory of the bullet.

"She interrupted me and said she could explain that," Garner said.

Garner said he provided Yeager with a stick about the same length as the rifle. She did not indicate how she lost control of the gun, he said, but did show that it "ended up" under her chin.

"That's clearly inconsistent, I think, to everyone who's read the statement," Garner said.

The state presented one other witness, Yeager's and McDonald's friend Aerial Baum. Baum testified that Yeager was sometimes manipulative, playing on the feelings of her friends by threatening suicide.

"She'd make us feel bad so we'd pay more attention to her," she said.

She also testified she had seen Yeager shooting off the back porch, and that "she was really good as far as I could tell." She testified to another occasion when she had seen Yeager break down and clean the riffle, then put it back together again.

As for motive, Smegal said, McDonald's response to Yeager's declaration of love was to go to sleep[pass out?], a rejection.

"Under the evidence introduced," Smegal said, "I believe a jury could conclude guilty with malice aforethought."

Stone denied Valpey's motion, saying although his argument was impassioned and logical, the case was based on circumstantial evidence and "the jury has the responsibility to make a judgment, and that's where I will leave it, in their hands."

Yeager was taken to Lumpkin County Detention Center, where she will be housed pending transfer to a state institution. She will be eligible for parole in 14 years. She will be 33 years old. ... murder.prt

SHH Anon Classics:
He was a night security employee

Yea i rember 'mac'. He was odd but a nice guy. Terrible what happened...

so are you trying to blame this somehow on HLA?? it doesn't make any sense that you would list this article unless to try to reak havoc on a situation that had nothing to do with HLA...was she a student, was this something that had to do with his work as a night security guard??
you amaze me!

Wow, didn't even know this happened. It must have happened right after my departure in 2001. "Mac" was a little out there in dorm 2, but so were most of the night security folks. What a shame.


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