Deep in the heart of the Bible Belt, in a place where neighbors watch out for each other’s kids, it was the worst kind of news.
What happened in the rolling hills of Georgia would divide what was once a close community. It was a terrible crime and a stunning arrest would devastate three families.
It all began in the small town of Carrollton, Ga. on April 26, 2004 with a call to 911.
8-year-old Amy Yates was missing and her parents Tom and Shari were frantic.
911 Operator: When was she last seen?Tom Yates, faher: About an hour ago. She asked me if she could go ride her bike. The bike is parked two trailers away from where she was supposed to be and she’s nowhere to be found in the trailer park anywhere.
Shari Yates: I was scared. And, when he had called 911, I just let out an awful wail. I mean I just knew something bad had happened to my daughter. Tom Yates: I just kept saying, “Baby, come home. Daddy loves you. We miss you. We want you home.”
Amy was one of the most popular kids at the Twin Oaks mobile home park.Big sister to 7-year-old Danielle,Amy was known for her kindness to everyone, including 12-year-old Johnathon Adams, a charming but often troubled boy who struggled with a learning disability.
Rob Stafford, Dateline Correspondent: Tell me about Amy Yates.Johnathon Adams: I mean we never had any problems.Stafford: Pretty girl?Adams: Yeah pretty.
16-year-old Chris Gossett, a mentally disabled teenager, liked her too. At 6’5”, he was known around the trailer park as the gentle giant.
Chris Gossett: She’s nice and she’s gentle, too. And she’d give you practically anything, if you want something bad.
Chris’s mom, Jean Gossett looked at Amy as one of her own.
Jean Gossett: She had a smile that would light the world. It was beautiful.
On that Monday evening in April, Amy’s 9th birthday was only days away. She was anxious to deliver party invitations to the Gossetts, who lived just few trailers away from her own. Her father says she left home at 6 p.m. riding her bike and carrying a whitenotebook.
Tom Yates: Be home at seven o’clock is what I told her. And, that was the last thing I said to her.
But by 7:30, Amy still hadn’t returned, so her mother, Shari, went to the Gossetts to find her.
Shari Yates: I asked them where was Amy? And, they said, “What do you mean where is Amy?” I said, “Well, she was supposed to be coming over here.” Jean Gossett: She was devastated. She was scared to death. She was crying. So, I told the kids, "Let’s get up and go. We’ve got to help them find her."
The Gossetts joined what would soon be a huge search party. Even the kids in the park pitched in, including Chris Gossett and Johnathon Adams. Tom Yates says both boys reported seeing Amy earlier that day.
Stafford: So, Chris Gossett says he saw Amy by the railroad tracks. Johnathon Adams said he saw her by the trampoline.Tom Yates: Yes. Stafford: You checked both places. Any sign of Amy?Tom Yates: No.
Soon Amy’s mother did see a sign of her daughter, but it frightened her even more.
Shari Yates: I saw her bike. And, it was parked in between two empty trailers.
Her blue bike, Amy’s prized possession was left the way she always parked it with the kickstand down. Amy was nowhere in sight.
As the evening turned to night, police brought in a search dog,as volunteers swarmed the 10-acre park. By 10 p.m., 3 hours after her disappearance, what seemed like a break: Amy’s father heard the police had found her.
Tom Yates: I go frantically running back down to the house to see my daughter and I said, “Where’s my daughter, where’s my daughter?”
Amy had been found but the news was not good.
Tom Yates: The two chaplain police officers walked in and I saw little gold crosses on their shirts. And, I knew right then that my daughter was dead. At that point I just collapsed.Shari Yates: I’m trying to attend to him and take in the news that my daughter’s not alive.
Soon word reached the Gossett family, the friends Amy was on her way to see when she disappeared.
Jean Gossett: I said, “Well, how’s Amy?” He said, “It’s not good, she’s dead.” Oh, my God. It was horrible. I was thinking about her mom and dad, her little sister.
Amy’s death meant Chris Gossett had lost a playmate.
Stafford: What’s your favorite memory of Amy?Chris Gossett: Her playing a video game with me. I miss that.
Over at the Adams’ trailer, the news left Johnathon upset and bewildered.
Adams: I mean I just couldn’t believe it. I mean who would want to kill an 8 year old girl?
Amy was gone...and deputies knew her death was no accident.
Tom Yates: They told us that she had been strangled to death.Stafford: This is a murder case.Tom Yates: This is a murder.
And the details of the murder were gruesome. Deputies found Amy’s body at the bottom of this hill on the edge of a ditch; her white notebook lay five feet way. Although there was no sexual assault, her blue jeans were unzipped and opened but not pulled down; though no one would understand why until much later. Most obvious was the massive bruising across Amy’s chest and around her neck. The brutality of the crime was hard to fathom.
But within hours police had a suspect. The age of the alleged killer was almost as shocking as the crime.
Tom Yates: We find out that a 12-year-old boy had been taken into custody because he says that he had contact with our daughter.Stafford: And who is that 12-year-old boy?Tom Yates: Johnathon Adams.
He was the same boy who lived in the trailer park, often played with Amy, and immediately volunteered to look for Amy when she went missing. It was hard to believe.
Tom Yates: Yeah. We were like, “Well he’s a troubled kid but…he killed our daughter?”
At first investigators suspected that Amy Yates’ killer was an adult, perhaps a man with a history of sex crimes. But those leads didn’t pan out. Thennames of neighborhood troublemakers began to emerge. At the top of everyone’s list? 12-year-old Johnathon Adams. It was no surprise to Amy’s father Tom.
Tom Yates: There were times when he would come and steal my tools. And I would confront him. And he would just give you a look like, how dare you get onto me.Stafford: You know he stole from you?Tom Yates: Yeah.
Amy’s friend Chris Gossett says Johnathon stole from himas well.
Chris Gossett: Well he was a sweet, sweet boy but he used to steal our bikes and throw ‘em in the lake.
Chief Deputy Brad Robinson says the allegations of stealing weren’t nearly as disturbing as stories describing much darker behavior.
Brad Robinson: There was one situation about killing a snake and having the blood on the knife. And when he was questioned about it they said that he licked the blood off of the knife.
The day after Amy was found, investigators asked Johnathon and two other boys he hung out with to come in for questioning. Johnathon’s parents Joe and Angie didn’t bother to call a lawyer. They believed it was all routine until Johnathon’s friends were soon sent home.
Angie Adams: Within an hour both of them had already left.Joe Adams: Left.Angie Adams: And Johnathon just stayed and stayed and stayed.
The Adams were told to sit in the lobby as their son was questioned behind a locked door. They had no idea their wait would last almost three hours or that Johnathon’s account of what happened to Amy would change the course of the investigation...and rock the lives of three families.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: What questions did the officers ask you?Johnathon Adams: Like, “Have you seen her that day? Do you know what happened? Or did you kill Amy Yates?” Stuff like that.Stafford: And Johnathon what do you say?’Johnathon: “I didn’t see her that day. I did not kill her and I don’t know what happened.”
That denial didn’t ring true for investigators. Tom Yates had said Johnathon reported seeing Amy before she disappeared. But it was more than that. Chief Deputy Robinson says they were struck by the way Johnathon answered the following question.
Chief Deputy Robinson: “What do you think needs to happen to a person who’s responsible for Amy’s death?” And he said, “Well, you know it was probably just an accident.”
Detectives say characterizing murder as an accident can be a killer’s way of easing his conscience, so police pushed Johnathon further.
Johnathon Adams: They kept telling me I’m a liar and need to tell the truth and all that.
As the questioning continued, Johnathon says he repeatedly asked for his mom and dad but was told no. As one hour turned into two, the 12-year-old’s story began to change. He admitted he’d been playing a game with Amy in the woods on the day she was killed.
Robinson: He said that they were running down the trail and she stopped suddenly and he ran into the back of her, and it caused her to be knocked down the ditch.Stafford: They were playing a game.Robinson: Right.Stafford: And Amy got hurt.Robinson: That’s right. And, according to him, she laid there.Stafford: And then what did he do?Robinson: He got scared and he ran.
And investigators say Johnathon’s answers revealed a crucial detail that had not been released to the public.
Stafford: Did he tell you information that only the killer could know?Robinson: I think only the killer would know that she would have been in a ditch.
Remember Amy’s body had been found at the edge of a ditch at the bottom of a hill. Investigators say they’d sealed off that area, keeping neighbors far from the crime scene. Two and a half hours into the interrogation, police called Johnathon’s parents into the room.
Angie Adams, mother: He’s scared to death. I mean, he’s crying and I’m crying with him.
The Adams refused to believe their boy strangled Amy.
Stafford: Does any part of you say, “Maybe he did do this”?Joe Adams: No.Angie Adams: No.Joe Adams: No. Not one second
Johnathon’s interrogation was not videotaped, but his parents could see the statements he’d written and signed. Admissions like this one: “We were chasing each other by the trees...I couldn’t stop in time and ran into her from behind. She slid and rolled down the hill.”
Stafford: He’s implicating himself. He’s saying that he was with her that night. Angie Adams: By the time he wrote that, he was basically just telling them what they wanted to hear so that he could just go on home.
The police were about to charge 12-year-old Johnathon with murder. Joe Adams stared at his son and demanded the truth.
Joe Adams, father: I looked at him. I said, “Did you do it?” And he said, “No sir, I didn’t,” and I could tell he wasn’t lying to me.Stafford: Police say say essentially, Joe, you scared your son into taking his statement back. Joe Adams: No I didn’t scare him. They scared him.
But Johnathon had already given three different statements. All of them linked him with Amy at the time of her death. For investigators, it was too late to claim innocence.
Stafford: Are you convinced you have the right person?Robinson: Yes I am.
Deputies arrested and jailed Johnathon that night.
Stafford: Did you cry?Johnathon: Yes I did.Stafford: Did other people see you cry?Johnathon: Yes they did and I didn’t care if they seen me or not.
Across town, in a haze of grief, Amy’s father, who hoped to be celebrating her birthday, was now planning a funeral.
The Yates put the locket they had bought for Amy’s birthday in her casket along with a birthday card. Flowers were everywhere.
Shari Yates: We always saw our daughter smiling, and her beautiful eyes. And, we couldn’t even see her eyes because of what she went through,
The pain was almost unbearable, made worse by the fact that Amy’s killer was allegedly her friend and playmate Johnathon Adams.
Tom Yates: I just wanted to put my hands around him and take his life like he took my daughter’s life.
Deputies arrested 12-year-old Johnathon Adams less than 24 hours after they discovered the lifeless body of Amy Yates.
And in the weeks ahead as evidence came back from the crime lab, they became even more convinced of the boy's guilt. Tests revealed a fiber on Amy’s body.
Deputy Chief Brad Robinson: That particular fiber on Amy's body was consistent with the fiber in the outer garment Johnathon had on earlier that day.
And there was more evidence from a guard who said Johnathon threatened her while in custody waiting for his case to go to court.
Robinson: He said something to the fact of-- "you know if you don't stop doing whatever you're doing I'll kill you. I'll choke you like I did the little girl."Stafford: Johnathon Adams said this?Robinson: Right.
In court, the judge ruled those incriminating statements Johnathon gave police could be used against him. A guilty verdict seemed likely.
So his defense attorney negotiated a plea deal in which the 12-year-old did not admit killing Amy but did accept a murder conviction. In exchange, Johnathon was sent to a treatment facility instead of a juvenile prison.
At first, it felt like justice for Shari and Tom Yates who expected the 12-year-old would be locked up for the rest of his life for killing their little girl.
Tom Yates: We were led to believe that we had a very strong case all throughout the whole investigation.
But Georgia law didn't allow a life sentence for such a young murderer. Two years was all the court could give.
Tom Yates: I snapped. I mean, I felt like the Incredible Hulk. I just went into a total meltdown, that somebody could kill my daughter and only receive two years for it.
At sentencing, Tom Yates aimed his grief, pain and frustration directly at Johnathon...as he waved a picture of his dead daughter.
Tom Yates: I said, "This is my daughter." I said, "This is the girl you killed." I said, "Look at the picture, damn it."
Tom Yates left the courtroom that day determined to change the law so that killers like Johnathon Adams would serve more time for murder.
Tom Yates: I immediately started to research what i could do to change the juvenile laws.Stafford: So, you leave court and you're on a crusade.Tom Yates: Yeah. I started contacting representatives.
Georgia lawmakers agreed change was needed and passed "Amy’s law” which allowed judges to increase the penalty for young offenders convicted of murder. It had taken two years, but Tom Yates felt something positive had come from Amy's death. The case was closed, the guilty punished.
But just when Amy's parents were learning to remember how she lived, not how she died...there was a phone call.
Shari Yates: It was a big shock and-- and surprise--Tom Yates: I don't even think shock is the word.Shari Yates: And not understand why all this time did this happen now why couldn't it happen while it was still fresh.
Life at Twin Oaks wasn’t the same after 8-year-old Amy Yates was murdered. The park’s owners filled in the ditch and a makeshift memorial marked the place where amy used to play.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: What have you been through?Tom Yates: Hell.Shari Yates: My heart’s been smashed. And, we’ve lost so much. We’ve had our family torn apart.
The Yates moved out of Twin Oaks shortly after Amy’s death, trying to escape the bad memories. Angie and Joe Adams moved as well, while Jonathon struggled in the juvenile facility.
Stafford: You’re labeled the killer of Amy Yates.Johnathon Adams: Yes sir. Accusing me of this and that and they started making fun of me say “You killed Amy Yates” and this and that and that’s most of the reason I got in fights there.
But Jean Gossett and her family stayed on at Twin Oaks. Amy’s friend Chris Gossett got his drivers license and worked on his high school diploma though through a special education program. Though he has the mental ability of a 9-year-old, Chris landed two part time jobs to help support his family. Still, Amy was never far from his mind.
Chris Gossett: I still cry sometimes about it. I can’t stop thinking about it, cuz she was the one who played games and stuff with me.
Chris told Dateline he hadn’t felt right in the years since Amy’s murder and spent more and more time in church and at the bible studies offered in the neighborhood.
He says he experienced a conversion and asked to be baptized as part of a public profession of his faith.
Chris Gossett: Yeah. I trust God more than anybody else. I feel different right now—I feel like a whole new person right now.
But that new found peace came with a shocking admission just two months before the second anniversary of Amy’s death.
Jean Gossett: He got off the bus that afternoon and he kept pacing. I said Chris what’s wrong with you? He said, “Momma, I did something bad.” I said, “Did you hit a car?” “No, Ma’am.” “Did you wreck?” “No, Ma’am.”
Nothing could have prepared Jean Gossett for what she was about to hear.
Stafford: What do you tell your mom?Chris Gossett: I killed her.Stafford: You killed her.Chris Gossett: Yes sir.Jean Gossett: And I said, “Chris you couldn’t have done that. There’s no way in the world. You’re incapable of doing it.” And he said, “Momma, I killed Amy. I killed her. I killed her. Stafford: He’s emphatic about it. “I did this,” he said.Jean Gossett: Yes.
Jean Gossett didn’t believe her son could kill his friend Amy, but she also knew Chris was not a liar.
Jean Gossett: I’ve always told the kids please be honest.Stafford: And Chris has a reputation for being honest?Jean Gossett: Yes.Stafford: Do you feel an obligation that you have to report this to the police?Jean Gossett: Yes.Stafford: To turn your son in?Jean Gossett: Yes, it had to be reported.
So Chris’s father took him to the sheriff’s department that same night. This time, detectives videotaped the confession.
Officer: OK Chris if you would just start from the beginning...Chris Gossett: Alright, I was at my tomato plants right?Officer: Ok at your house, right?Chris Gossett: Yeah, at my house
Chris took the investigators back to that Monday evening in 2004, the evening Amy rode her bike toward the Gossett’s home to deliver an invitation to her birthday party.
Chris Gossett: I told her to park her bike right there and I told her to follow me and into the woods to where that lake area is.
Chris agreed to tell us what he shared with investigators...
Chris Gossett: Then I sat on top of her, and then put my hand over her mouth and stuff.Stafford: And, what was Amy doing?Chris Gossett: Kickin’, saying she can’t breathe—she can’t breathe.
Then deputies asked Chris to demonstrate what had happened.
Chris Gossett: I showed ‘em how I twisted her neck and I put my hands over her mouth. I don’t wanna talk about that.Officer: What was she doing when you twisted her neck?Chris Gossett: Nothing.Chris Gossett: Then she was dead. That’s why I said—Stafford: And, how did you know that she was dead?Chris Gossett: Cuz she wasn’t breathing.
Why would Chris, a boy with a reputation as a gentle giant, murder Amy, a girl he clearly liked?
Officer: Why would you want to kill an 8 or 9 year old little girl?
Investigators asked Chris for a motive.
Chris Gossett: Sex.Stafford: That you wanted to have sex with Amy? Chris Gossett: Yes, sir.
Chris told police he didn’t touch her sexually, but did start to remove remove her pants.
Stafford: And, what did you tell the police about the pants?Chris Gossett: I unbuttoned them.Stafford: And, pulled them down or left them where they were?Chris Gossett: Left them where they were.Stafford: But unbuttoned?Chris Gossett: Unbuttoned. unzipped. Yes sir
Chris also talked about the white folder Amy had been carrying when she disappeared. Remember police found it about 5 feet from her body.
Stafford: What did you do with the folder?Chris Gossett: I said I threw it.
For 30 chilling minutes, Chris described the final moments of Amy Yates’ life.
Stafford: How does it feel to say all these things that you’ve been holding back?Chris Gossett: It released me from a whole bunch of stuff.Stafford: And what did that feel—Chris Gossett: Like all the stuff building up in my chest. Because my chest started swelling like somebody squeezed me hard. And after I told everybody somebody let go.
But for Tom Yates, this new confession brought only doubt and confusion.
Tom Yates: You’ve just lived two years of your life believing that a 12-year-old boy killed your daughter. And you’ve said some horrendous things about this family and this boy. You were so believing that this boy did it. And then somebody else says they did it and the big question of… why?
Now two boys are implicated in the murder... but who really killed Amy?
Knowing who killed their daughter had been a small comfort for Amy Yates’ parents. Now even that peace of mind vanished with Chris Gossett’s claim that he was the real killer.Yet Yates says deputies were quick to reassure them Gossett wasn’t the murderer.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Do police lend any credibility to the confession they got from Chris Gossett?Shari Yates: They don’t want to take it seriously.Tom Yates: The next words out of their mouth immediately were, ‘But wait don’t worry about it. He didn’t do it. He’s a babbling fool he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” And they from that point they just tried to assure us that Chris didn’t do it.” They just said well part of his confession was information that everybody knew.
Chris, now 19, says police urged him not to tell anyone else he killed Amy... but he refused, telling his preacher, his friends and anyone who would listen.
Stafford: How many people have you told you killed Amy Yates?Chris Gossett: A whole bunch.
When police didn’t arrest him in the weeks after his confession, Chris grew restless and depressed. Then, one morning, Chris didn’t wake up.
Stafford: Did you try to hurt yourself?Chris Gossett: Yeah, I drunk bleach and took sleeping pills.Stafford: And why’d you do that, Chris?Chris Gossett: Because it seemed like everybody was mad at me. So, I figured nobody wanted me no more. So, that’s why I did it.
Chris survived the suicide attempt but one thing dramatically changed. Chris now said it was all a lie — he was not Amy’s killer after all.
Stafford: Chris, why did you say you killed Amy if you didn’t?Chris Gossett: I don’t know. I just had a mental breakdown. That’s all then I told the hospital I killed her. And I kept on saying I killed her. Stafford: You’re saying now that you didn’t do this?Chris Gossett: I didn’t do it.
Chief Deputy Brad Robinson never thought Chris killed the 8-year-old. Johnathon’s story about being with Amy the afternoon she died was far more convincing.
Chief Deputy Brad Robinson: I would say that the information about her body being in the ditch where it was found would be something only the killer would know.Stafford: I’ve got the written statements he’s made… he doesn’t say anything about the ditch.Robinson: Right. We had talked to him what we were talking about and he had described was the ditch area that she had fell down into.Stafford: Was that recorded? Do you have that?Robinson: No.Stafford: And did he talk about unbuttoning the pants?Robinson: No.Stafford: Did he talk about sex being a possible motive?Robinson: No.Stafford: I mean, you look at the two statements and Jonathon gives you a very vague statement and Chris has incredible details.Robinson: Right.Stafford: So why do you believe Johnathon and discount Chris?Robinson: The information Johnathon was giving us was the day after the crime scene or the day after Amy was killed the information that Chris Gossett was giving us was almost two years later.
The chief deputy hired a psychiatrist for an evaluation. His opinion was that Chris did not have the mental capacity to remember details over a two year period. Robinson speculated that Chris must have heard the Yates family talking about those details long after Amy was killed.
Stafford: Why would Chris Gossett after all this time, and knowing that a boy is already in jail for this crime suddenly come forward and confess to a killing that could send him to prison?Robinson: I don’t have an answer to that.
Tom Yates was desperate for answers. Yates had cursed the 12-year –old Johnathon in court and derided the youngster in his campaign to change Georgia Law. Had he persecuted an innocent boy?
Confused and unsure what to believe, the Yates watched the Chris Gossett’s video tape confession for themselves.
They heard detail after absent from all the statements Johnathon Adams had given.
Stafford: Were the details he gives on that tape was that common knowledge?Tom Yates: No. There were some things that were told to us that we were told to keep secret. And one of those was one of the most important thing and that was that he said he unbuttoned and unzipped my daughter’s pants. Nobody knew that. Nobody. Shari and the sheriff’s department and the DA knew that.Stafford: And Chris Gossett knew it.Tom Yates: Chris Gossett knew and that’s what sealed it for me.
Yates says he never shared that information with Chris or anyone else. The answer was clear and it was a sickening realization—Johnathon had not killed Amy after all.
Stafford: Do you owe Johnathon Adams an apology?Tom Yates: There’s not enough sorry in the world to cover that. You just can’t say ‘I’m sorry enough to this person and to the family.’
An apology was only a beginning. Amy’s dad wanted to do more. Yates went to court with Johnathon to ask the judge to reverse the plea deal and set the boy free. The judge ruled that Chris’ confession was credible enough to throw out Johnathon’s conviction.
For the first time in two years, the now 15-year-old was allowed to go home.
Stafford: What was it like getting out of jail?Johnathon Adams: I was real happy. I mean I was blessed to be coming home. I was thankful.
But Tom Yates wasn’t done. Chris Gossett was still free and the sheriff thought Amy’s case was closed.
Tom Yates: They wrongfully prosecuted a 12-year-old boy back two years ago. And Now they look like fools. And they should because they are. They fumbled this case. And now they don’t want the rest of the world to realize what they’ve done.
Yates launched a new crusade to convince authorities to charge Chris Gossett and clear Johnathon Adam’s name. His first stop was Johnathon’s attorney Gerald Word.
Gerald Word, defense lawyer: He said, “I think your boy’s innocent. I wanna meet with you.”
The defense attorney was already in the midst of his own investigation, once again sifting through the evidence—this time to see if Chris Gossett’s version matched up.
Word: Not only is it consistent, but there are things that we couldn’t explain before in the autopsy report that now make perfect sense.
The biggest revelation was a detail that went virtually unnoticed when Jonathanwas charged. Back then the focus was on the strangulation marks on Amy’s neck. But there was never an explanation for the bruising on her upper chest.
Stafford: What do your experts tell you about that?Word: It can only occur with a very heavy weight being forced on Amy’s chest, you know a person sitting on her chest that weighs enough to mechanically impair her ability to breath.
In his confession, 280-lbs. Chris Gossett demonstrated how he sat on Amy to keep her from screaming. The defense attorney says his weight could have left those bruises. Johnathon couldn’t have left those marks because at the time, he weighed back 100 lbs. Not enough to cause the marks.
Stafford: What else?
Word: We’ve got a notebook that Amy carried with her that Chris describes in the tape as being tossed aside... we know the notebook’s found on the other side of a little stream as though it’s toss over there just kind of strewn.
Stafford: How did Johnathon explain the notebook? Word: Johnathon never mentioned the notebook.
In fact Amy’s parents say investigators had never told them where the notebook was found. Yet, it was a detail Chris Gossett knew.
Tom Yates: We know that the sheriff’s department and the DA are trying to cover this up. They’re trying to sweep it underneath the rug and I am going to do everything in heaven and hell to keep that from happenin.” Stafford: What should the persecutor do?Tom Yates: He should prosecute Chris Gossett.
But District Attorney Pete Skandalakis was the same DA who had prosecuted Johnathan Adams for killing Amy and he not convinced a mistake had been made.
Pete Skandalakis, district attorney: This is not a clear-cut case even though people want to make it a clear-cut case.
There were two boys, two different stories that implicated each one and two retractions. Skandalakis says if Chris had come forward right after the crime, he, not Johnathon would have been the number one suspect.
Stafford: Why does that two year delay make such a difference?”Skandalakis: Because of Chris Gossett’s mental incapacity because of the witnesses that we have interviewed who have told us they don’t believe Chris Gossett would be able to keep this a secret for two years.Stafford: So where does that leave the quest for justice for Amy?Skandalakis: As confusing as the facts are.
The DA decided on an highly unusual solution. He summoned a grand jury to present them with the evidence against both boys. The grand jury would weigh Johnathon’s vague admissions that he’d been with Amy that afternoon against Chris Gossett’s specific account of luring the 8-year-old to the woods for sex.
The grand jury questioned 35 witnesses, walked the crime scene at Twin Oaks and compared the autopsy reports against the boys’ stories.
Then it was time for the vote. The grand jury had several choices: indict neither boy or decide the one of them was most likely the killer.
Members of the grand jury heard 9 days of testimony but needed less than 4 hours to decide who they believed killed Amy Yates. They did find that there was sufficient evidence to indict Chris Gossett for the offense of involuntary manslaughter.
Tom Yates was satisfied. The right person would finally be held responsible for killing Amy. But then the DA reported the second part of the grand jury’s decision.
Because Gossett was 16 when he committed the act this case will transferred back down to juvenile court who has jurisdiction.
Gossett would be tried under the old law. That meant two years in jail was harshest punishment we could get.
Outside the grand jury room, Amy’s father exploded.
Tom Yates: Unreal, unreal, they are going to give that boy two years for the murder of my daughter!
In Tom Yates’ mind his daughter’s murder demanded a much harsher punishment.
Police wrestled Yates to the ground, while a devastated Jean Gossett took her son to jail.
Jean Gossett: Well I brought him in and that’s like giving your kid over to the devil. He is not guilty.
Gossetts arrest brought huge relief to Johnathon Adams. Now a 15-year-old trying to rebuild a life outside of jail. His thoughts are often about Amy.
Johnathon Adams: She meant so much to me. I can just sit there and doing stuff and the next thing you know she pops in my mind. And I’ll just sit there and think about that about what happened. I don’t see why anybody would want to kill her. I mean, I was real good friends with her. I didn’t do nothing wrong.
Johnathon says he made up those statements about playing with Amy the day she died because he thought it was the only way investigators would let him go.
Johnathon Adams: I was wanting to go home. I didn’t know anything. I’d never been questioned before. At first a couple times keep telling them “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.” Then they were like say it again cause they were telling me they kept calling me a liar and all this and so I just wanted to go home.
Although Chris Gossett is now charged in the killing, a conviction will be another matter. Sheriff’s investigators including Chief Deputy Brad Robinson still don’t believe Gossett is a killer.
Stafford: When you’re on the witness stand and the defense attorney for Chris Gossett asks “Do you think Chris did it?” What are you going to say?Robinson: I’m going to have to say no.
Tom Yates knows a trial jury may be reluctant to convict Gossett if deputies don’t believe he did it. But since the indictment, Yates has won a big victory. The prosecutor has decided to try Gossett as an adult. If convicted, the teen known as the gentle giant could spend a decade in prison.
Tom Yates: Until her killer is brought to justice and gets the time that he deserves, I’m not gonna be able to move on and I won’t put it behind me.
As he struggles with the future he remembers the past to commemorate the two year anniversary of her death, Tom had his own personal memorial for Amy tatooed on his arm.
Tom Yates: You know houses burn down. Pictures fade away and memories you can lose ‘em, but this will follow to me to my grave.”
Late last month, a judge moved Chris Gossette's case back to juvenile court -- which means he could end up serving less than two years. No trial date has yet been set.