17-year-old accused in Washington girl's death charged as an adult with murder, rape



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PORT ORCHARD, Washington — The teenager accused of sexually assaulting and killing a 6-year-old neighbor girl in Washington state was charged as an adult Friday with aggravated murder and aggravated rape.

Gabriel Gaeta, 17, would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the murder charge in Kitsap County Superior Court. He will not face the death penalty — the maximum penalty for aggravated murder in Washington state — because he is under 18.

Prosecutor Russ Hauge told The Kitsap Sun he's still waiting for the results of an evaluation of Gaeta's competency to stand trial. A call to an attorney believed to represent Gaeta was not immediately returned late Friday afternoon.

Gaeta has been held in the Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Center on $1 million bail since his arrest Aug. 9. Two days earlier, Jenise Wright's body was found after an intensive search involving hundreds of law enforcement officers and others. An FBI team with search dogs discovered the girl's body covered by a wood pallet and submerged in a muddy bog in woods near her Bremerton home.

Authorities say they linked evidence found near the girl's body to the DNA of Gaeta, a high school student with no criminal history. A search of his home found a blood- and mud-covered shirt and a bloody towel in Gaeta's bedroom.

Court records showed Jenise Wright suffered brunt-force trauma to the head and was strangled and sexually assaulted.

She was last seen by her parents when she went to bed Aug. 2 at her family's home in a mobile-home park. Officials have said there were no signs of forced entry at the residence and no indication Jenise taken from her home.

Gaeta has been described by James Wright, Jenise's father, as a close friend of the family. His residence was two homes away from the access point to a wooded trail that led to where the body was found, according to court documents.

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