Headed for Trouble

Erik wanted to help his friend get out of the house. He succeeded -- they're both in prison for life.

The boys played together in a punk-rock band, Troublebound. They went to high school together at Highlands Ranch. They worked together at Einstein's bagel shop. And when Nate Ybanez decided to murder his mother, he went to his frontman, Erik Jensen, for help.

On June 5, 1998, Erik got stoned, then picked Nate up at work. Again, Nate was talking about how much he hated his mother. "I'm going to kill that bitch," he'd tell his friends. But this time, he was really going to do it, Nate said. His plan was for Erik to stay in the car for about half an hour while Nate did the dirty work, and then Erik was supposed to come in and help clean up.

They parked outside the apartment building where Nate lived with his mother, Julie Ybanez. Nate went inside. Erik sat in the car, smoking pot and cigarettes.

Brian Stauffer
Curt and Pat Jensen hold a picture of their only son, 
Erik, before he and Nate Ybanez were convicted of 
first-degree murder.
Anthony Camera
Curt and Pat Jensen hold a picture of their only son, Erik, before he and Nate Ybanez were convicted of first-degree murder.

After about thirty minutes, Erik got out of the car. It seemed like a long walk to the apartment building. He looked up the stairs, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He climbed the three flights and knocked on the apartment door.

Julie answered. Nate had been bullshitting again, Erik thought, relieved.

"Is Nate here?" he asked.

"Yeah, hold on a second."

As Erik stepped through the door, out of the corner of his eye he saw Nate running toward Julie. High overhead, Nate was holding fireplace tongs.

Erik closed the door.

Julie and Roger Ybanez were high school sweethearts in Davenport, Iowa. That's where Nate was born in 1981, before the family moved to Germany, where Roger worked in the insurance business for five years. After that, they bounced back to Iowa for a few more years, then did short stints in Chicago, Virginia Beach and Nebraska, where they owned a bakery.

Finally they landed in Colorado. Nate, an only child, attended a Christian school for a year before enrolling in Highlands Ranch High School, his first public school. A sophomore, he soon met Erik Jensen, a junior. Erik was the bass player and frontman for a band that needed a guitarist; Nate fit the bill. The band, dubbed Troublebound, practiced in the basement of the Jensens' large home in Littleton, where Erik had a floor to himself. Troublebound even played a couple of house parties and got a gig at a bookstore.

The band was doing well, but Nate was not. His grades were bad, and he ran away several times. He was also smoking pot.

His parents sent him to rehab in Boulder. After that, he gave up pot -- but started drinking more (and got a ticket for underage consumption) and ran away more frequently. He spent a night on the streets. He even lived with the Jensens for a few weeks. Erik gave Nate the phone number for a runaway hotline, and Nate himself asked the cops to contact Douglas County Social Services because he was unable to function at home. But whenever the police picked up Nate, they always took him back to the apartment.

By then, Nate's father had moved out. The problems with Nate -- "he was a pain in the butt," Roger remembers -- had created pressure on the marriage, and the couple had separated in the hope that some time apart would improve things.

On June 5, 1998, Roger stopped by the apartment. That surprised Nate, because he didn't see his father much. It turned out that Julie had asked him to come by because she wanted Nate to go to military school in Missouri, and she wanted Roger's support. Nate begged for one more chance. "You're going nowhere but downhill," Roger told him, "running with this group of kids, playing in this band."

While Nate was being lectured, Erik was out with the band's drummer, picking up a quarter-pound of weed. He took the pot home and got stoned. Nate called him from Einstein's, and asked Erik to come down and chat.

Out in the parking lot, Erik listened to Nate's description of another foiled plot by his parents to send him to military school. Nate started talking about killing his mom. He'd talked like that before, but this time he seemed a lot more upset. He sounded like he might be serious.

Nate asked Erik if he'd help kill his mom; Erik refused. Nate asked Erik if he'd help clean up after he killed his mom; Erik agreed. Then he and some friends went back to the Jensen house for another smoke session. That night, he picked Nate up at Einstein's, and Nate again started talking about killing his mom.

"So, are you going to be there?" Nate asked.

"Are you still thinking about doing this?" Erik asked back.

"I have to. I'm going to do it," Nate replied.

"I gave you my word," Erik promised. "I'm going to help clean up."

When Nate hit Julie in the head with the fireplace tongs, Erik freaked out. He'd never really expected Nate to kill his mom, and he sure didn't expect to see Nate blindside her as he walked in.

He fled down the hall to Nate's bedroom, but could hear Julie pleading with Nate.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help