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'Impossible to Fathom' 

A McKinleyville man's tortured and murderous path

The pre-sentencing report paints a chilling picture of a 23-year-old former ward of the state who, failed by the very systems designed to protect him, brutally murdered someone just eight days after being discharged from the U.S. Army.

"Defendant's thought process is impossible to fathom, and his lack of remorse is outright frightening," a probation officer wrote of Michael Raymond Youravish, who was recently sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in state prison for stabbing his former neighbor 35 times in a forest on the outskirts of McKinleyville.

In November, a jury found that Youravish had lain in wait before turning on Forrest Croft Lovejoy with a small serrated knife and stabbing the 35-year-old dozens of times, pausing only to order his brother, at knife point, to videotape the slaying. At trial, the jury had heard that Youravish had returned to the scene of the June 17, 2013 killing to hide Lovejoy's body, dragging it from a slightly worn footpath into the woods, where he covered it with garbage and debris.

The pre-sentence report compiled by the Humboldt County Probation Department paints a chilling picture of Youravish and his life, which nearly ended at birth.

The fourth of John and Valerie Deno's five children, Youravish was born prematurely, poisoned by the alcohol and narcotics Valerie had been addicted to throughout her pregnancy. Youravish actually died at birth, according to the report, but was revived and transported to a San Francisco hospital, where he spent his first days in a neonatal intensive care unit. Youravish was then placed into foster care, his parents having been determined by the state to be unfit to care for him.

In the ensuing years, Youravish's parents regained and lost custody of him several times until he was permanently removed from their Butte County home at the age of 5, after his father died. At the age of 7, Youravish — who was born Micha Deno — was adopted by Michael David and Meg Youravish, who lived in Humboldt County and adopted a total of nine foster kids — including two of Youravish's biological sisters, according to court documents.

Meg and Michael David separated in November of 2006, when Youravish was 14, and Michael David moved up to Bandon, Oregon, where the kids would regularly travel to visit him for family outings and camping trips. In February of 2008, those camping trips became the subject of court proceedings after Michael David was accused of molesting and raping two of his adopted daughters after getting them drunk.

During one camping trip over Fourth of July weekend in 2007, Michael David brought three of his adopted kids — a 14-year-old girl, a 4-year-old girl and their brother, who is identified only as "M" in court documents and was 15 at the time, the same age Youravish would have been — to a campsite, where he proceeded to give the teenagers Mike's Hard Lemonade. Michael David then had nonconsensual sex with his adopted teenage daughter in her tent. At one point, according to court documents, "M" entered the tent and Michael David "invited his son to 'join in.' The son, who watched some of the sex acts, left without getting involved."

Meg filed for divorce within days of the trip, alleging that Michael David was molesting his children. During the subsequent Oregon trial that ultimately resulted in Michael David's conviction, many of the kids — including "M" — were called to testify against their adopted father.

Meanwhile, according to Youravish's probation report, he was having escalating substance abuse issues. He'd started drinking at 13, the report states, and quickly started consuming "up to a fifth of alcohol per day" in an addiction he would carry into adulthood. Additionally, between the ages of 14 and 18, Youravish "extensively used psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and Ecstasy. At times he used these substances on a daily basis for a month at a time."

Other problems arose, as well. While in 10th grade at Eureka High School, Youravish was suspended for unruly behavior. When he returned from the suspension, he brought a gun to school and was expelled, according to the report. Then, in 2009 when he was 17, he was arrested three times in a one-month span for "being beyond the control of his parents." Each time, he was "reprimanded and counseled."

It seems Youravish also had escalating mental health issues, as he told his probation officer he has received mental health services since he was 4 years old and was eventually diagnosed with anti-social personality and post-traumatic stress disorders. It's unclear if he was being medicated.

From November, 2010 to October, 2011, Youravish was arrested locally for being drunk in public a total of six times. In November of 2011, he joined the Army, requesting that he be placed in the infantry. "He explained he has always had a tendency toward violent behavior, and he thought serving at the front lines would be a healthy outlet," the report says. "[He] stated he 'loved' the combat training he received while enlisted."

Mike Lopez said he arrived in Fort Hood about the same time as Youravish and served as his commanding officer. "He's probably one of the worst soldiers I've ever had, and I've had some bad soldiers," Lopez said in a recent phone interview. "He showed no remorse over anything he did." To hear Lopez tell it, Youravish did OK in the beginning but quickly spiraled out of control. He'd show up drunk, skip inspections and oversleep for morning formations, only to be found in his room surrounded by empty beer cans, Lopez said. His behavior steadily escalated, and he became known for disrespecting commanding officers and generally being reckless. Then, in October of 2012, things came to a head when Youravish bought Xanax from a cab driver and overdosed on the sleep aid, prompting a several-day stay in the hospital.

Toward the end of Youravish's military career, he was placed on 24/7 line-of-sight, which Lopez said meant he could never be unsupervised by a commanding officer, whether he was going to the bathroom, the mess hall or the dormitory. The really frustrating thing, Lopez said, was that Youravish sapped commanding officers' time, directly taking away from the training of his fellow infantrymen, who were readying to deploy to a combat zone. "It was like, 'You really don't care that we're not training your buddies over there because we have to take you to the bathroom?'"

Finally, on June 9, 2013, Youravish received an early general discharge from the Army and returned to McKinleyville. What he did in the ensuing days is unclear, but on June 17 he went with his brother to happy hour at McKinleyville's Central Station bar, where drank eight or nine beers and ran into Lovejoy, his former neighbor.

Prior to leaving, Youravish told someone at the bar he was "going to take care of a child molester," and then he, Lovejoy and his brother left and walked to a nearby Green Diamond property to look for some marijuana plants they thought were growing there. After about five to 10 minutes of walking into the woods, Youravish turned around with a 'crazy look in his eyes' and started stabbing Lovejoy, according to statements Youravish's brother made to police. According to the brother's statements, Youravish yelled "snitches get stitches, they die in the dirt," as he stabbed Lovejoy, whose dying words the brother said were "I believe in Jesus."

Youravish told his probation officer that he believes Lovejoy was a child molester, adding that when he was 15 and Lovejoy was 27, Lovejoy had confided in him that he liked teenage girls and asked Youravish to invite some of his female friends over. But investigators in the case turned up no evidence to support Youravish's claim.

During his Nov. 24 conversation with his probation officer, Youravish appeared "friendly" and "eager to converse," the officer wrote in her report. He also showed absolutely no remorse.

"In a chillingly nonchalant manner, defendant readily admitted he killed Mr. Lovejoy; however, he asserts he reacted with his military expertise to a perceived threat," the report states. "Equally chilling is defendant's matter-of-fact admittance that he fashioned a knife [from his cell mirror] while in custody with the specific purpose of stabbing a correctional officer he believed had disrespected him. ... Defendant's life imprisonment is most appropriate."

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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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