Hall of Justice with flowers
Hall of Justice in San Jose, pictured on June 7, 2024. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

John Maxey Yeager, the man accused of killing his wife, Yingying “Dawn” Yu, and disposing of her body in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was on the Santa Clara County Superior Court docket for a plea hearing today.

Unlike others in the packed Department 34 dock, he appeared in relatively good spirits.

However, he did not profess his innocence or guilt—or say anything at all.

His lawyer, Leah Gillis, spoke on his behalf, telling Judge Cynthia A. Sevely she planned to seek a protective order modification, to allow a dependency court process to flow smoothly.

She agreed with Deputy District Attorney O’Bryan Kenney that Aug. 30 at 9am would work for her client’s next criminal case appearance.

The court heard that Yeager plans to demand a preliminary hearing at that time, despite police having said the accused originally confessed to the murder.

The protective order modification will proceed in another courtroom in the meantime.

Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department officials said Yeager was caught on security camera footage arguing with Yu on New Year’s Eve.

Days later, after she didn’t return to work, Yeager was hauled-in by police for an interview in which he admitted to strangling his wife with a rope, according to a statement from Detective Michael Birley filed with the court.

The coroner’s report confirmed she died by asphyxiation.

On the day Yeager was charged with first degree murder, felony false imprisonment, six aggravating circumstance allegations and an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon, his ex-wife, Sunyi Chang—with whom he had joint custody of two boys—filed for a protective order.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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