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17-year-old held on $1 million bail for rape, murder of Jenise Wright

Gabriel Zebediah Gaeta, 17, is escorted into Kitsap County Superior Court Room 212 for his initial appearance on Monday, Aug. 11. Police allege he raped and murdered East Bremerton
Gabriel Zebediah Gaeta, 17, is escorted into Kitsap County Superior Court Room 212 for his initial appearance on Monday, Aug. 11. Police allege he raped and murdered East Bremerton's six-year-old Jenise Wright.
— image credit: Kevan Moore/staff photo

Gabriel Zebediah Gaeta, 17, made his initial appearance in Kitsap County Superior Court today and was ordered held on $1 million bail in the pending rape and murder case of East Bremerton's 6-year-old Jenise Wright.

Gaeta will have to undergo a mental health evaluation at Western State Hospital before charges are filed against him. He potentially faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances and first-degree rape of a child.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said the death penalty is off the table in this case due to Gaeta's age. The aggravating circumstances in the case, meanwhile, involve Jenise's young age and particular vulnerability.

In court, Gaeta said very little, but confirmed his identity to Judge Kevin Hull. Gaeta also told the judge he is 17 years old, can read and write the English language and later signed some documents by his lawyer's side.

Gaeta, a neighbor of the Wright family in the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park, was arrested Saturday afternoon after investigators said they found DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

On Aug. 4, the day after Jenise was first reported missing, court documents say searchers found a pair of girl's underwear and shorts. A preliminary test showed the presence of blood and a further examination by the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab revealed the presence of semen. A blood type profile indicated the blood belonged to a female biological child of James and Denise Wright, Jenise's parents.

Five days later, with a DNA sample of Gaeta's to compare to, the state crime lab issued a report to investigators.

"The male DNA typing profile (Individual B) previously obtained from the front of the underpants [bloody underpants located near the body] matches the DNA typing profile of Gabriel Gaeta," the crime lab report states. "The estimated probability of selecting an unrelated individual at random from the U.S. population with a matching profile is 1 in 9.1 quintillion."

Following his arrest, an FBI Evidence Response Team and detectives served a search warrant on Gaeta's residence. Blood-stained underwear, a blood- and mud-covered shirt, blood-stained shorts and a bloody towel were allegedly located in Gaeta's bedroom.

Jenise's body was found about 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 7.

"The body was almost entirely submerged in a muddy bog in the woods adjacent to the trailer park, approximately 15-20 feet from where the underwear and shorts were located," a probable cause statement said. "The mud in the area in which the body was located, was approximately three to four feet deep. A small wood pallet was lying over and further concealing the body in the mud. On top of the pallet, searchers located a black nylon duffle bag, luggage, and/or laptop bag style shoulder strap."

An autopsy conducted the following day showed "evidence of blunt force trauma to the head resulting in multiple skull fractures, evidence of sexual assault (pre-mortem vaginal tearing and genital trauma), and evidence of strangulation by ligature. It was also determined that (Jenise) had lividity on both her abdominal area and her back, believed to be caused by Jenise's body being moved a half an hour to three hours after her death."

Gaeta and his family were first approached by FBI agents in their Steele Creek Drive home on Aug. 4, the day after Jenise was reported missing.

According to the probable cause statement, Gaeta allegedly told the agents he knew Jenise. His parents, though, said he was too upset to provide a voluntary DNA sample.

A different FBI agent was able to collect a DNA sample during an Aug. 8 follow-up interview.

The agent described Gaeta as "leaning against the wall, barely able to get out of bed and emotionally upset."

The probable cause statement noted that Gaeta's residence "is located two mobile homes just west of the wooded trail access way leading to where the body was found."

Investigators went to Gaeta's home on Saturday and asked him to travel to the Bremerton Police Department for further questioning. They said Gaeta agreed to do so and was read his Miranda Warning while seated in the front seat of a vehicle. Police say Gaeta told them he understood his rights and was not placed in handcuffs. They also said Gaeta was quiet and reserved during the drive, but they did discuss what school he attended, wrestling and his family. Once at the station, Gaeta was taken to an interview, told that he would be recorded, once again read his rights and agreed to talk.

The probable cause statement said Gaeta was talkative about some of the things that were discussed during the drive to the station, but he appeared uncomfortable when asked about the days surrounding Jenise's disappearance.

"When we asked how he felt when (Jenise's) body was found, he said something similar to 'it wasn't right' and eventually he stopped talking altogether," according to the probable cause statement. "(Gaeta) was crying and had tears streaming down his face, his nose was running and he focused on a spot in the room and did not divert his gaze."

As detectives continued to talk with Gaeta he would stare at a specific spot in the room, but not answer. Detectives said he also would not use a tissue to clear discharge hanging from his nose. When they left the room, though, Gaeta began moving around, stretching, yawning, wiping his nose and drinking bottled water.

As soon as detectives re-entered the room, they said Gaeta went back to his previous behavior of staring and not answering questions. This pattern repeated itself, but Gaeta eventually began to nod responses to some questions. He was given food, soda and the chance for multiple restroom breaks and access to anti-depression medication. When he detectives placed a photograph in front of Gaeta, he refused to look at it. Detectives eventually went to work on making sure that no one else was involved in Jenise's death by repeatedly asking Gaeta about his friends in the park.

"I again asked him if he was the only one involved with (Jenise) death and he slightly rocked back and forth," the probable cause statement noted. "I told him I did not know if he was answering my question and I did not want to interpret his movements. I asked him again if he was the only one involved and (Gaeta) clearly nodded yes."

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