The Nancy Griffith Murder
By June Shaputis 1999

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September 29, 1999, is the 20th anniversary of the heinous rape and murder of sixteen-year old Ely, Nevada resident Nancy Griffith by twenty-five-year old Robert Ybarra Jr. The crime took place off Highway 50 about three miles north on the remote 30 Mile Road in White Pine County, Nevada.

During the evening of September 28, 1979 and the early morning hours of September 29, 1979, when Nancy Griffith rebuffed his sexual advances, Robert Ybarra Jr. viscously kicked, beat, and raped the teenager. Then he poured a flamable liquid on her and set her afire and left her to die.

Ybarra met Nancy Griffith and a friend of hers in the County Park in front of the White Pine Court House in Ely, Nevada on the evening of September 28, 1979. Using the pretext of needing to hire someone to clean his trailer, he took both girls to his home. Then the friend was dropped off and Ybarra drove with Nancy Griffith to the isolated area of 30 Mile Road where he proceeded to attempt to sexually assault her.

Griffith escaped through the back window of the truck's camper shell and ran up to the wash where Ybarra caught up with her, they struggled and her tennis shoes were removed, still in the tied position, but Nancy escaped again. Griffith ran up the hill her in stocking feet where Ybarra caught her again and began to beat and kick her. Ybarra removed her tan pants and white underwear and raped her.

After the rape, Griffith grabbed her tan pants, leaving her underwear on the hillside, and ran to the wash to find her tennis shoes. Ybarra followed, catching her, and again beat and kicked her until her "lifeless" body was lying limp in the wash. Ybarra left the wash area to go to his truck parked about 45 feet away and got a can of white gas, went back to where Griffith was. Then Ybarra deliberately, coldly and calculatedly doused the dazed girl’s semi-naked body with the flamable fluid and set her on fire. He got into his red Toyota pickup and drove back to Ely, Nevada, leaving her to die alone on the lonely road in unspeakable and excruciating pain.

Amazingly, sometime later, stumbling and crawling, Nancy Griffith was able to make her way from the scene of the savage attack about a quarter of a mile, toward Highway 50, before collapsing in the sagebrush about 10 feet off  the isolated road. She was found a few hours later by two local men who spotted her lying on the ground waving her arm to signal them to stop. The men were horrified at the extent of her injuries and they tried to make her comfortable before they left to return to Ely, Nevada to alert the Sheriff’s Office.

After getting back to Highway 50, the men were able to flag down the second vehicle passing by, a small red pickup with a white camper shell. The driver was Robert Ybarra Jr. who, when asked if he would return to Ely to alert the police of the badly burned young girl, told the two men that he was on his way to work on an oil rig out on 30 Mile Road. Ybarra offered to stay with the injured girl while the men returned to Ely to summon help. The local men agreed that Ybarra could stay with the girl and told him where she could be found and drove off headed towards Ely.

Ybarra later told the authorities he had driven the area three times but could not find the girl so he went on to his place of employment in Butte Valley. Apparently Nancy recognized his vehicle and stayed hidden in the sagebrush, until he finally gave up looking for her. When she saw the men in the police vehicle, she struggled to sit up and raise her arm to signal to them.

Captain Bernie Romero of the White Pine Sheriff's Department was the first officer to arrive at the scene. Romero knew Nancy and her family, but because of the horrendous burns he was not able to recognize her. Barely alive from her grave injuries, Griffith was able to describe her assailant to Romero and told him that she had been raped the night before. She said that she did not know her assailant but said that "he works out there," and pointed to the north in the direction of Butte Valley. Griffith also told Romero the assailant drove a red Toyota truck and was by himself.

Romero covered the girl with a blanket and comforted her. One of the men who had originally discovered Griffith and went to Ely for help and accompanied Romero back to the scene found what he first thought was a rubber glove lying in the road. Upon closer examination it was the entire skin from her hand with the fingernails still attached.

Nancy Griffith was transported to the Ely hospital where it was determined that she had suffered severe burns over more than 75% of her body, her lungs were badly seared from inhaling the flames, and her skull was fractured. She was air lifted to a Salt Lake City, UT, burn center where she died that evening from the effects of the fire and other injuries.

Evidence was found along 30 Mile Road and in what was referred to as the "burn area" in a wash off the side of the road. There were scuff marks in 10 places along the road, the "burn area" and on the hillside above the "burn area." A pair of women's underwear was located on a hillside about 143 feet from where Captain Romero found Griffith. One cuff from a blouse and burned pieces of cloth from a pair of tan pants were discovered on the roadside 1,554 feet from the victim's location. A second cuff from a blouse was found 2,340 feet south of Griffith. A waistband was found in the "burn area." Pieces of a mirror were found 4,364 feet south of where the girl was found by the fishermen. A blue denim purse was identified as Nancy Griffith's. Skin tissue was found in various places along the route Griffith had traveled about a quarter of a mile toward Highway 50 from the "burn area" to where she was found.

While the investigation of the crime scene took place, Robert Ybarra Jr. arrived at the roadblock that had been set up just beyond the "burn area" and asked the officer there if the girl had been able to talk to the police or if she had died from her injuries before doing so. He also asked if the investigators had found anything. The investigating officer noticed Ybarra's boot prints matched those of the attacker and his boots had blood on them. Ybarra was arrested shortly afterwards driving his red pickup and a gun and box of bullets were found in the vehicle.

If Robert Ybarra Jr. had been able to find Nancy Griffith that morning before the authorities arrived from Ely, he surely would have killed her by shooting her when he found out that he had not been successful in burning her alive to prevent her from implicating him in the crime.

Dr. Richard Saunder, the forensic pathologist for the State of Utah, who performed the autopsy on Nancy Griffith stated there were unique burning patterns as if something which was flowing down the girls legs caught fire. The "drip marks" where the skin was burned on her legs were characteristic of a flammable liquid and the girl was probably up with her legs bent or possible standing up for the drip marks to be as they were. A second indication that Griffith was in a vertical position when she was set afire was the charred condition of the area under her chin and the lungs showed searing from breathing in fire. This pattern was indicative that the teenager was undoubtedly conscious when she was set on fire by Ybarra.

From the arrest of Ybarra on September 29, 1979 to its final phase, this case followed a circuitous route through the legal system for almost two years with various delays, evaluations, and appeals. The murder trial began in 1980. At the trials conclusion, in late June 1981, Robert Ybarra Jr. was found guilty of the charges, received the death penalty and was sentenced to be executed for the crime.

Nancy Griffith’s brutal murderer, Robert Ybarra Jr., will likely still be on Nevada's Death Row at the Ely State Prison on September 29, 1999, still waiting the execution of his death sentence because of the numerous appeals he has filed. Ybarra has filed numerous appeals and petitions in District Courts, The Nevada State Supreme Court, Federal District Courts, and the U. S. Supreme Court since his 1981 conviction.

On July 6, 1999, Ybarra lost his latest appeal when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that he failed to prove prejudice or show any fundamental miscarriage of justice in his case. As a result the justices said Ybarra is procedurally barred from petitioning. Ybarra had included more than 70 other claims in his latest appeal, most of which were previously petitioned in the above courts.10/20/09

Justice has yet to be served. There will be no closure for Nancy Griffith or her family until Robert Ybarra Jr. pays the supreme penalty that was imposed on him 20 years ago by a jury in a court of law.

Nancy Griffith Biography and poetry

Robert Ybarra Jr. Profile
The Arrest and Trial Delays Chronology

The Crime Details

The Trial Chronology

Ely Daily Times articles September 1979 through June 1981.
Interview with Barbara Griffith Baker, Ruth, NV 1999
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P.O. Box 552
Ruth, NV  89319