The Brutal Story of Jake Eakin, Child Murderer Turned Anti-Abortion Zealot
He says his tale of one of religious redemption. But abortion providers worry he has simply found a new outlet for rage.
At the Spokane women’s march this year, as women paraded through the eastern Washington city in pussy hats and pink tees, a skinny, bespectacled man marched alongside, clutching a voice amplifier and brandishing a poster of a giant, bloodied fetus.
“You are marching for your own personal convenience, your own personal beliefs,” the man bellowed into the amplifier. “But what about the millions of children who have been murdered by abortion since 1973?”
Later, he warned the women they were participants in a “culture of death” and that abortion was a sin.
“The only answer to the sin of murder,” he told them, “is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Fourteen years ago, that same man—Jake Eakin—was a pale, slick-haired teenager making headlines as the youngest person in modern state history to be tried for murder as an adult. The grisly case, in which Eakin’s autistic classmate was found bludgeoned to death in a park near his home, drew national attention to Spokane and divided the city.
When Eakin finally confessed that he and his friend Evan Savoie—both just 12 at the time—had murdered their classmate after inviting him out to play, the boys were sentenced to 14 years and 26 years in prison, respectively.
Now 28, out of prison, and a born-again Christian, Eakin is making headlines in his community in a different way—as the leader of an extremist, increasingly vocal anti-abortion group targeting women. While Eakin claims to practice non-violence, his sordid past and radical rhetoric have local reproductive rights advocates on edge.
“I think he’s completely disconnected from reality, and I think he really does not believe in the laws that we adhere to,” said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in the eastern Washington area.
“He doesn't think the law applies to him,” he added. “So I think that it's kind of a powder keg.”
Eakin doesn't cut a very menacing figure. He is still short and thin, just as he was when he took the stand in 2006. (Kenneth Muscatel, a forensic psychologist who analyzed Eakin for trial, said his first impression of the preteen was that he could have carried him on his hip.)
When he was a child, psychologists suggested Eakin had a learning disorder, which he now claims was a simple lack of interest in learning. He still stutters and struggles with a slight speech impediment. But when he talks about abortion, his views come through loud and clear.
“I would say your average American doesn’t think rightly about abortion,” Eakin told The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “They will say abortion is murder, but then they won’t act like it. We would act radically different if, for example, 5-year-old children were being murdered every Sunday.”
Eakin considers himself an abortion abolitionist—part of a niche group of activists who believe the larger anti-abortion community isn't hard-line enough. The abolitionists advocate for state bans on abortion—a direct violation of Roe v Wade—and call for women who end their pregnancies to be prosecuted as murderers.
The group’s methods are just as extreme as its beliefs: Members protest outside clinics, high schools, and even churches that don’t agree with them, barking through their megaphones and carrying images of aborted fetuses.
Eakin’s Facebook page is littered with homemade memes baring messages like, “Toxic Feminism: Turning Women Into Murderers Since 1973.” In March, he was arrested for trespassing at a Yakima, Washington, Planned Parenthood clinic, where he allegedly refused police officers’ orders to leave.
These days, Eakin regularly holds court outside the new Planned Parenthood in Spokane and preaches what he calls “the gospel” to the women who try to enter. (“Praise God! One turn-away from the Spokane baby-murdering deathpit,” he bragged on Facebook after a recent expedition.)
Some of Eakin’s rallies have drawn more than 100 people, and his violations of city and state noise ordinances have attracted the attention of Planned Parenthood security officers and local police.
“It’s a pretty stressful way to start out my day, just knowing that he is actively trying to prevent people from receiving this care that [they] need,” said Sarah Dixit, a Planned Parenthood community organizer in Spokane.
“While I know that people can change, I think his actions have shown his ability to commit violent acts,” she added. “And while he claims nonviolence now, I think his rhetoric is dangerous, as it can incite violence from others in the fringe movement.”
The case that made Eakin notorious is just as gruesome—if not more so—as the rhetoric he uses today.
Authorities discovered the body of his victim, Craig Sorger, with approximately 20 blunt force injuries and more than 30 stab wounds to his neck, head and body. A medical examiner said he had been stabbed so severely that the tip of the knife was left in his skull. Eakin and Savoie, the last ones to see their classmate alive, maintained for months that he had fallen out of a tree.
But in 2006, in exchange for a plea deal, Eakin revealed a different version of events: He and Savoie invited Sorger out to play—an exciting proposition for the developmentally delayed teen—and led him to a secluded, wooded area in the park. Once there, Savoie dropped a rock the size of a basketball on the 12-year-old’s head, knocking him to the ground.
Savoie then got on top of Sorger and began punching him, Eakin testified, while the boy cried out, “Why are you doing this to me?” Egged on by his friend, Eakin picked up a stick and hit Sorger on the head and legs more than 20 times. Afterward, he said, Savoie shook his hand.
Eakin spent two tearful hours testifying about the murder at trial, before releasing a handwritten, error-ridden statement to Sorger’s family. He apologized to the family for “makeing this pane” and said he “regreded my part of everything,” adding: “I wish that one day I might get forgived for what I have done, but I know deep down that will never happen.”
When Judge Ken Jorgensen handed down the sentence—six years longer than prosecutors recommended—Eakin’s family audibly gasped. In the courtroom that day, all three of the boys’ families cried.
To this day, Muscatel, the psychologist who examined Eakin for trial, thinks the sentence was a mistake. Isolating a child from normal society for that long, he said, “is going to have a profound effect somehow, some way.”
“It’s really hard to take someone out of that maturation channel and then get thrown into it as an adult," he said. "It’s very tough."
For the 11 years he spent in prison, Eakin had a single unfailing visitor: a family friend named Marissa Rae Spytex. Their fathers worked together, and she had served as Eakin's character witness at his trial. She also attended his sentencing hearing, and still remembers converting his sentence from months to years in her head. She says it was the defining experience of her young life.
“I was just like, I’m gonna think of him at least one time a day, every day,” she said in a recent interview. “I was determined. I was like, ‘I’m going to think of him every day, because that's what I felt like, as a friend, I needed to do."
Other than his mother, Marissa was one of the only people to visit Eakin every year. The two also regularly exchanged letters about religion and theology, though Eakin says he was Christian in name only at this point. Five years before his release, the two admitted they had feelings for each other.
But in 2016, three months before his sentence was up, Eakin escaped. On a Sunday that June, the 25-year-old fled his work release program in Yakima and hitchhiked 100 miles back to eastern Washington. From there he jumped on a bus to South Dakota, where authorities discovered him two days later at a Rapid City bus stop. Looking back, Eakin now says he was simply overwhelmed by the responsibilities of work release after living his entire young life behind bars.
He served out the rest of his sentence in state prison before being transferred to county jail to do time for the escape. It was there that Eakin—who was by then a voracious reader, despite not knowing how to write when he entered prison—first read the Bible.
“I feel like God made himself real to me then and really gave me a desire to be a voice for the voiceless,” Eakin said. “It was a pretty radical transformation that took place, and my desires changed.”
When he was released in February 2017, Eakin briefly moved in with his family and worked odd jobs to save money. Within months he was engaged to Marissa and living with her in his hometown of Moses Lake. But he remembers feeling adrift and uncertain about his future, waiting for his newfound savior to tell him what to do next.
When his marching orders came, they were in the form of a YouTube video. A few weeks before his wedding, while sitting on a couch with his fiancée, Eakin saw a video that stopped him in his tracks. It was of Rusty Thomas, the founder of the abortion abolitionist movement, staging a sit-in outside a clinic. At one point in the video, Thomas turned to his son, Jeremiah, sitting among the protesters, and told him, “Son, this is your heritage.”
“It was just the look on Jeremiah Thomas's face that really, really burst this desire to be a voice for the pre-born children,” Eakin said, “It made it real for me, like it hadn't been real before. I just felt like God moved on me and broke my heart for these little precious children.”
Marissa still remembers the moment.
“I saw something switch in him,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Oh boy, he just found it. He just found what he’s supposed to be doing, right now in this moment.’ And it changed our lives forever.”
It has also changed the lives of the people of Spokane. The 200,000-person city—Washington’s second largest—is located just over 200 miles from liberal Seattle, but leagues away in ideology. The area has sent a Republican to Congress for more than two decades and was one of the few in Washington state to go for Donald Trump in 2016.
While the area is part of the Northwest’s “unchurched belt,” NARAL community organizer Norma Heredia said abortion still carries a stigma in the area. When she first moved to Spokane four years ago, Heredia said, “the lingo around abortion was very polarized. It was like no questions asked—it was morally wrong and that was it.”
The area is also a crucial refuge for women from nearby northern Idaho, where abortion laws are much more strict. Despite its local politics, Spokane is protected by Washington state laws like the Reproductive Health Parity Act, which requires insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion.
Eakin is doing his best to change that. He has already rallied state Rep. Matt Shea to his cause—the Republican recently attended one of the protests outside Planned Parenthood—and he appeared on City Council member Mike Fagan’s radio program. (The council member later told The Inlander he was not aware of Eakin’s history, though he suggested it could have made the show more interesting.)
Every week, Eakin and his wife show up to the Spokane City Council meeting to advocate for a total ban on abortion. He’s only spoken once so far because council rules allow the same person to speak only one time per month. But when he did, it was with the same, brutal propaganda he uses against women trying to access clinics—talk of fetuses being torn from limb to limb.
"This is being done under your watch,” he told the council members, “and you will all be held accountable before God for not acting.”
City Council member Kate Burke told The Daily Beast she felt intimidated as a atheist by Eakin’s speech and a supporter asking for her personal thoughts on abortion.
Burke added that she is in favor of rehabilitation for criminals and believed that those who serve their time deserve a second chance. But what concerned her about Eakin was that she has never seen him express remorse.
“He’s just changed his direction of anger to a different group of people, so now he's focusing his anger on women who are seeking health services,” she said.
Eakin makes a weekly pilgrimage to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane, which he often refers to as “the gates of Hell.” Along with Ken Peters, a pastor at the local Covenant Church, he hosts a monthly “church at Planned Parenthood,” where local clerics give amplified sermons condemning the clinic just outside its front doors. The event—described on its website as “non-confrontational spiritual warfare”—regularly draws more than 100 people from surrounding congregations.
The rallies make Dillon, the Planned Parenthood spokesperson, uneasy, given the history of anti-abortion violence in the United States. Since the 1990s, when extremist anti-abortion groups decided to make their moral battle a physical one, at least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics. In the most recent murder, a gunman screaming about “baby parts” burst into a Planned Parenthood in Colorado in 2015 and killed three people.
“We know about the history of intimidation and even violence against staff, and we’ve seen how this dangerous rhetoric fuels really painful acts,” Dillon said. “And so it's something that we take very seriously.”
The group that Eakin affiliates with, Operation Save America, is one of the most prominent extremist anti-abortion groups in the country. The group claims to disavow violence, but has taken provocative actions like mailing out flyers with the names and addresses of doctors who provide abortions. Its members also pledge to combat Islam and homosexuality, and have burned Qu’rans and protested Gay-Straight Alliances at public high schools.
Eakin caused his first post-prison stir by handing out pamphlets of bloodied rainbow hands outside a local high school and has been pictured carrying a rainbow-emblazoned sign reading: “Abortion is a hate crime.”
“I think there is a reluctance sometimes to take these threats seriously,” Dillon said. “But the fact that he’s targeting women, he's targeting the LGBTQ community, he's targeting communities of color, it really speaks volumes about their extremist agenda.”
Eakin grasps the irony to his story—that he is a former child killer dedicated to shaming those he says are killing children. But the activist doesn’t see his story as gruesome.
“When you have went through something like I have, [when] there's a tragic past where a young boy was tragically murdered, it gives you this sense of value for life,” he said. “My past was defined by that, but now I want it to serve Christ and try to rescue these children.”
When he was first charged for his crime, Eakin says, he wasn’t able to fully process its severity. But when he arrived in jail at age 14, Eakin said he began to feel truly guilty. He said it was only when he found God a decade later, in the county jail cell, that he was able to assuage some of that guilt.
Now, when he speaks of redemption, of being “washed clean through the blood of Christ,” Eakin’s voice is achingly hopeful, as if by speaking the words he can will them to be true. He frequently compares himself to Paul, the biblical apostle who spent his young life persecuting Christians before accepting Jesus as his savior.
That idea of redemption may be even more important to his wife, Marissa. For years after Eakin was sentenced, Marissa was bullied at school for staying friends with him. Even now, some of her Christian friends question her decision to marry a convicted killer.
But Marissa also sees herself as a reformed sinner. For at least a year as a young adult, before she and Eakin revealed their feelings for each other, Marissa lived as a man. She used a male name, wore masculine clothing, and lived what she called “a homosexual transgender lifestyle.” She was also deeply depressed, abusing drugs and alcohol and contemplating suicide.
One day in 2012, Marissa broke down and went to visit a Christian friend in Colorado. Within weeks, she had converted to Christianity and “surrendered” her sexuality to God. When she returned home, she was dressed as a woman, using her birth name. Little more than a year later, she and Jake were discussing their future together.
She sees parallels between her story and her husband’s.
“Before he was released, I had conversations with other people who were like, ‘Well you know, I believe in redemption, but who knows about him,’” she said.
“And I realized, ‘Wow, I’m a sinner.’ I’ve done a lot of terrible things and I’ve been redeemed and I’ve been saved,” she added, “And how amazing that the same thing has happened for Jake, that’s he’s redeemed and he’s saved.”
Jessa Lewis doesn’t see it that way. After Eakin appeared on Fagan’s radio program, the former state Senate candidate took to Facebook to express her concerns as a community leader and Planned Parenthood patient.
“As a survivor having access to care is important to me, and it pains me to see people going for necessary care or who can’t change who they are and who they love be threatened like this,” she wrote.
“What are we going to do about this?” she added. “Targeting the vulnerable isn’t redemption.”
After the post and a follow-up interview with The Inlander, Lewis said, Eakin started commenting on her Facebook page, blaming her for the press coverage around him. He tagged his friends to back him up, and posted the familiar, graphic images on her wall. At the same time, people from surrounding communities starting reaching out to her about their experience with Eakin and offering their support.
Lewis said had talked with friends and family about protecting their safety in the aftermath, and she was reluctant to participate in an interview.
“I do have legitimate and genuine safety concerns because of the escalating rhetoric,” she said.
“When you reach a certain level of zealotry then the norms of human society break down. And it’s that kind of zealotry when we see people get injured or killed.”
Despite Eakin’s unrelenting crusade, Dillon said he had no doubt that the local Planned Parenthood would continue providing services, just as it always has.
“Our motto is care no matter what, and we really believe that. Our organization has been around for over 100 years, and we're not going anywhere,” he said. “We’ve dealt with threats and intimidation in the past. I hope that Jake gets the help that he needs.”
Editor’s note: This story initially quoted Council member Kate Burke as saying a follower of Eakin told her in an email that she deserved to die. Burke now says she misremembered the exchange and that the correspondent did not write that. The story has been updated to reflect this change.