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Jenise's accused killer makes brief court appearance

Gabe Gaeta, the 17-year-old accused of raping and killing East Bremerton resident Jenise Wright, 6, made a brief appearance in Kitsap County Superior Court this afternoon.

Prosecutors say that Gaeta is set for a Wednesday, Sept. 3, competency evaluation at Western State Hospital. Gaeta will be back in court Sept. 12 for another status hearing and potential arraignment.

The status hearing lasted just a few minutes today after Gaeta — in an orange jumpsuit, shackles and a black shirt draped over his head and face — was ushered in by sheriff's office deputies. Prior to Gaeta's first court appearance on August 11, a judge ordered that no photographs be taken of Gaeta's face inside the courtroom, hence the black shirt, which was removed once he sat at the defense table inside court room 271 today.

Gaeta did not speak at today's court appearance. He is being held on $1 million bail and potentially faces life in prison if convicted of first degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge has 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.

Jenise was first reported missing August 4. Gaeta, a neighbor of the Wright family in the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park, was arrested Saturday, Aug. 9, 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 too 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."

Court documents indicate that Gaeta acknowledged his role in Jenise's rape and murder.

"I again asked him if he was the only one involved with (Jenise) death and he slightly rocked back and forth," a detective's 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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