An Army private who said he gunned down a teenage friend’s mother and stepfather and a third person to free her from what he perceived as an abusive family was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an extra 75 years.
Joshua Charles Acosta, 23, was convicted Nov. 8 of three counts of first-degree murder, along with the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
Acosta’s best friend and co-defendant, Frank Sato Felix, 27, of Sun Valley, is awaiting trial in the case. He is also facing life without parole if convicted for his role in the Sept. 23, 2016, killings of 39-year-old Jennifer Goodwill-Yost, her husband, 34-year-old Christopher Yost, and their friend, 28-year-old Arthur William Boucher.
Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley rejected a request by Acosta’s attorney, Adam Vining, to have the defendant sentenced to 150 years to life. Senior Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino argued that such a sentence would grant Acosta a parole hearing in 25 years.
Conley said the “shockingly bad” killings were “for a reason that you have to say is just weird.”
Goodwill-Yost’s mother, Gwendolyn, told Conley during the hearing, “Our whole family is just shattered.”
To Acosta, she said, “I just don’t understand how you could take my lovely daughter away forever.”
She urged the judge to deny parole for the defendant because, “I never want him to see the light of day again.”
Boucher’s father, Arthur, told the judge, “He took a son from me. … This man is a thief and a coward.”
“I hope he never finds God in prison because he does not deserve God’s grace,” he said.
Acosta, who was a private first class in the Army stationed in Fort Irwin at the time of the crime, told police he decided on his own to kill the mother and stepfather of then-17-year-old Kaitlynn Goodwill-Yost, who was dating Felix, according to a recording of the law enforcement interrogation played for jurors.
Acosta told police that Felix and his girlfriend left her Fullerton home in the 400 block of South Gilbert Street before he “went to work.”
The shotgun-wielding Acosta killed Boucher, who was staying overnight as he would do occasionally, on the couch in the front room, then went to the master bedroom to kill Jennifer Goodwill-Yost in her bed, and then gunned down his third victim as Yost was attempting to get out the back door of the home, Pino said.
Kaitlynn’s two sisters, one 6 years old and the other 9, found the bodies in the morning.
Jurors heard the younger girl’s 911 call. At one point, the child tells the dispatcher, ” My dad is in the backyard dead and my mom is dead in bed …”
Police zeroed in quickly on the teen girl and her friends because she was missing when the bodies were found, Pino said.
When they found Acosta at Fort Irwin, he had three bullet casings in his shorts but initially “lied and denied” about his role as the gunman, the prosecutor said.
According to authorities, Kaitlynn Goodwill-Yost became friends with Acosta and Felix through the “Furry” and “Brony” communities. The “furries” like to dress up as “anthropomorphic” animals in “mascot” costumes and “bronies” are adult men who are fans of the “My Little Pony” cartoons for children.
“There was a plan to emancipate (Kaitlynn) from her family because she was unhappy with her parents,” Pino said.
The prosecutor said Kaitlynn Goodwill-Yost has claimed “she had no idea her parents and Billy were going to be murdered.” She also claimed that Yost molested her and her mother “physically abused her,” Pino said.
Acosta, who was an Army mechanic, bought bolt cutters and ear plugs on the night of the murders, according to Pino, who said the defendant told police he cut off a security cable on Felix’s father’s gun and used the weapon to commit the killings.
“That family is a twisted, wretched cesspool and it’s a festering wound,” Acosta told police. “I cauterized that festering wound.”
He further told police he wanted to “save” Kaitlynn’s sisters from “two monsters,” according to the interview with investigators.
“If we take Katie out of the picture, what stops him from going after the others,” Acosta said in the taped confession.
He said Boucher was “collateral” who “threw a monkey wrench” into the plans.
“I don’t really care if I go to prison or if my life ends here,” Acosta told police. “All I care is this little girl is going to be safe and sound.”
Acosta’s attorney, Adam Vining, argued that because of his client’s autism, he felt he was acting in defense of his friend and her younger siblings.
Vining said his client was a “bronie” who had a “My Little Pony” doll made for him by a friend stuffed in his backpack when he went out to do combat exercises. Vining said it’s common for people with his client’s autism disorder to congregate with “furries” and “bronies.”
Jennifer Goodwill-Yost was a “furry,” who would bring her daughter to gatherings, according to Vining, who said Acosta’s autism is “central” to understanding the defendant’s actions.
“Autistic people tend to be naive, emotionally immature,” Vining said in his opening statement. “They tend toward black-and-white thinking.”