Crystal Lake man sentenced to prison for 2017 double homicide, could serve as few as 31 years

Ryan Yarber accepts plea deal in connection with Allania Yarber, Anniyah Reynolds’ shooting deaths

A Crystal Lake man on Friday was sentenced to prison for the 2017 shooting deaths of his wife, Allania Yarber, and her 15-year-old sister, Anniyah Reynolds.

Ryan Yarber, 34, entered pleaded guilty Friday to two counts each of second-degree murder and reckless discharge of a firearm. McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge accepted the plea deal and sentenced Ryan Yarber to a total of 65 years in prison.

Under Illinois sentencing guidelines and because Yarber is eligible to serve his sentence with day-for-day credit to apply, he could serve about 31 actual years. That decision ultimately is in the hands of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Friday’s plea deal concluded more than three years’ worth of hearings and delayed trials in the 2017 double homicide that sent pain and grief through the victims’ family, the women’s mother, Julie Zeller, said in a victim impact statement Friday.

“The words ‘until death do we part’ were never meant to be at the hands of Ryan Yarber,” Zeller said through tears.

Ryan Yarber was arrested in 2017 following the deaths of Allania Yarber and her teenage sister Anniyah Reynolds. Family has said that Reynolds, the youngest of five children, was staying at the Yarbers’ home while the rest of her family was on vacation.

Just after 8 p.m. on Aug. 3, 2017, 911 dispatchers received two calls from the Yarbers’ 185 Marian Parkway home. Yarber placed the first call at 8:02 p.m. when he “frantically reported that his wife had grabbed his throat and that his sister-in-law had grabbed a butcher knife,” prosecutors said in court Friday.

“(Ryan Yarber) further indicated that he locked himself in his room, and when he opened the door and came down the hallway, his sister-in-law had a ‘huge’ butcher knife and she tried to stab him,” McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese said in court. “During this conversation, (Ryan Yarber) indicated that he ‘shot.’”

Ryan Yarber told police that Anniyah Reynolds repeatedly hit him during the altercation and screamed that she was going to kill him, prosecutors said.

“Rather than calling 911 or remaining inside the locked bedroom, (Ryan Yarber) stated that he grabbed his unloaded 9 mm handgun from the nightstand and loaded it with live ammunition,” Freese said.

Ryan Yarber told police that he placed the gun behind his back and opened the door to leave, prosecutors said. That’s when Yarber claims Anniyah Reynolds ran at him with a knife.

Officers who examined Ryan Yarber’s body found no bruising, scratching or other injuries to his neck. Investigators did discover a knife with a blade measuring about 9 inches near Anniyah Reynolds’ right hand, court records show.

A police search of Anniyah Reynolds’ cellphone revealed a text message conversation that unfolded about two weeks before her death.

“During that conversation, Anniyah Reynolds told her friend that she was upset because she can’t trust her brother-in-law and that if she ever sees him touch her sister, she ‘will kill him,’” Freese said.

When police arrived at the Crystal Lake home, they found both women dead from multiple gunshot wounds, prosecutors said. Autopsies revealed that Allania Yarber was shot five times: once in the foot, hand, arm, shoulder, and back of her head, prosecutors said. Anniyah Reynolds suffered three gunshot wounds to her knee, chest and face.

Forensic evidence further showed that Ryan Yarber fired his gun 10 times, striking either of the women a total of eight times.

“Based on gunshot residue, the shot to the face was determined to have been fired within 6 to 18 inches,” Freese said.

The shot to Anniyah Reynolds’ chest likely occurred while she was seated on the ground, Freese said.

The Yarbers’ young son was home at the time and in another room with a friend while the shooting occurred.

“Of all the things that happened, the worst was knowing that it was my father who killed my mother,” the boy wrote in a statement that his grandmother read aloud in court Friday.

Ryan Yarber initially was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, aggravated domestic battery, and child endangerment. Those charges, however, were dismissed Friday as a condition of his plea deal. Instead, prosecutors with the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office filed new information, a kind of formal charging document, alleging second-degree murder and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Second-degree murder is punishable by less time than first-degree murder and can occur when a person thinks they are acting in self-defense but their action is unjustified, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.

“Second-degree murder is when somebody kills a person and it is unjustified in that it wasn’t self-defense, but at the time of the killing, the person subjectively believed that it was necessary to defend themselves,” Kenneally said.

Ryan Yarber’s attorneys previously claimed the man was a battered husband who was acting in self-defense at the time of the shooting.

While reading from a prepared statement in court Friday, Yarber apologized to his children, parents, and friends and family of the victims “for the pain everyone has suffered through this whole ordeal.”

“I’m sorry for taking two beautiful persons from so many peoples’ lives,” Ryan Yarber said.

His parents, seated behind the defense attorney’s table, buried their faces in their hands and sobbed as their son addressed the court Friday.

Ryan Yarber’s case had previously been set for trial several times, but questions of expert testimony and the accuracy of Yarber’s police interview transcripts continually led to delays. Further complicating the matter, were “adverse facts” that gave prosecutors pause about bringing the case before a jury, Kenneally said.

“This is probably one of the most agonizing cases that I’ve ever been a part of,” Kenneally said. “Despite the heartbreak over the loss of lives of two incredible young women who had so much promise, there were too many adverse facts,” Kenneally said.

In the end, after weighing their options and consulting with Allania Yarber and Anniyah Reynolds’ family, prosecutors chose to move forward with the plea deal.

“It’s not a simple mathematical analysis,” Keneally said. “We thought that this was the best resolution.”

Not everyone was happy with the outcome, however.

The women’s father, Patrick Reynolds, said in a written statement Friday that he was “very disappointed in this system.”

“I feel this plea bargain is only to please the decision of the Illinois court system and did not take into consideration the wishes of the deceased girls’ father and loved ones,” Patrick Reynolds wrote.

He also referenced prior sexual abuse allegations against Yarber involving another of the victims’ sisters.

“I would love to leave a message for my two girls that were murdered by Ryan Yarber. I would love to go back to the day I had Ryan Yarber arrested in Oregon for sexually assaulting my daughter and make sure that case sentenced him,” Patrick Reynolds wrote.

Yarber previously was arrested and charged in connection with a 2012 Beaverton, Oregon, sexual abuse investigation, McHenry County court documents show.

That case was dismissed by the prosecutors during the course of trial and Ryan Yarber never was convicted, according to a July 2018 court filing by Ryan Yarber’s criminal defense attorney at the time.

Before marrying Ryan Yarber, Allania Yarber signed to play women’s basketball for San Jose State University in 2004 as a 6-foot-1 forward. She previously played four seasons at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon, where she averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds as a senior.

At the time of the women’s deaths, Ryan Yarber suspected his wife was having an affair, and the two were arguing about the topic just 15 minutes before Ryan Yarber shot Allania Yarber and Anniyah Reynolds, prosecutors said.

The man’s phone records revealed several attempts to monitor his wife’s cellphone activity and long text message conversations about the struggles in their relationship. Still, despite their hardships, Ryan and Allania Yarber had plans for the future, the woman’s mother said.

“Allania loved Ryan and wanted to have another child with himm” Zeller said. “... Ryan said yes. She was so happy.”

Allania Yarber’s sister, Arriana Reynolds, directly addressed Yarber in a written statement that her mother read aloud in court Friday.

“I will not let you get away without hearing my words,” Arriana Reynolds wrote. “You, Ryan Yarber are a coward.”

The woman went on to say that she hopes the fear on her sisters’ faces the night of the shooting is “burned into (his) memory.

“I know in my heart you still have hell to pay,” she wrote.

Alternatively, Zeller vowed to pray for her daughters’ killer.

“His soul is in God’s hands now,” Zeller said.

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.