Gabriel Gaeta Murders 6 Year Old Girl

Gabriel Gaeta was a teen living in Washington State when he would sexually assault and murder a six year old girl

According to court documents Gabriel Gaeta would take 6-year-old Jenise Wright to a remote location where the little girl was sexually assaulted and then murdered

The murder went unsolved for sometime until DNA would tie Gabriel Gaeta to the crime

Gabriel Gaeta would be arrested however he would be declared mentally incompetent so it took awhile where he was able to go to trial. Gaeta would be convicted and sentenced to forty years to life in prison

Gabriel Gaeta Photos

Gabriel Gaeta

Gabriel Gaeta FAQ

Where is Gabriel Gaeta Now

Gabriel Gaeta is incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary

When Is Gabriel Gaeta Release Date

Gabriel Gaeta is serving life however is eligible for parole in 2054

Gabriel Gaeta Case

Before sentencing Gabriel Gaeta to a minimum of 40 years in prison for the 2014 rape and murder of 6-year-old Jenise Wright, Judge Jennifer Forbes struggled with the one question that remained: Why?

“Honestly, I wish I had an answer to that question,” Forbes said following a lengthy hearing Monday where Gaeta’s attorney gave a presentation on Gaeta’s severe depression, his history of head injuries, the domestic violence he suffered as a young child and his lack of criminal history. “For me, as the sentencing judge, that is the question that tumbles around in my head.”

Gaeta offered no explanation for what happened the day Jenise went missing from the East Bremerton mobile home park their two families lived in during the summer of 2014. She was reported missing Aug. 3, 2014, and her body was found Aug. 7. Gaeta pleaded guilty in February to aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child.

Jenise’s body was found submerged in the mud behind the Steel Creek Mobile Home Park. Investigators found her undergarments, which had Gaeta’s DNA on them, according to court documents.

Gaeta had been friends with Jenise’s family and, despite declining mental health, had been active in sports and band. He was preparing for his senior year of high school when he killed Jenise, who was known as a spunky and independent girl.

“I can’t put into words how bad I feel about this,” Gaeta wrote in a statement read to Forbes by his lawyer. “I wish I could make amends for it. I don’t know why I did it.”

Jenise’s loved ones told Forbes about the depths of their loss following Denise’s death.

“She was the sunshine in our family, now it is gone,” Jenise’s mother, Denise Wright, told Forbes. “She has no life to experience and I feel that he shouldn’t have one either.”

In letters read to Forbes, family members blamed themselves for Jenise’s death and said in the depths of their grief time felt like it stood still.

Gaeta’s mother, Tina Wright, no relation, said Gaeta had shown kindness toward children and animals and that he listened to coaches and was able to change

“Gabe is a good person who did a very, very bad thing,” said Tina Wright, who started her comments to Forbes by saying Gaeta’s family is grieving for Jenise but that she was advocating for her son.

The punishment for aggravated first-degree murder is automatic life in prison without early release. Gaeta was 17 at the time and was charged as an adult. However, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that juveniles cannot be automatically sentenced to life in prison. The ruling, called Miller vs. Alabama, found that such sentences for juveniles were cruel and unusual punishment and in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Gaeta will turn 22 this year.

Further legal developments in juvenile justice sentencing pared the possible sentence to one that is not a default life sentence, meaning juveniles convicted of crimes such as Gaeta’s must be given an opportunity for release.

Forbes’ sentence, which prosecutors and Gaeta’s attorney both recommended, means Gabriel Gaeta will serve 40 years in prison before he can apply for release — at which time he will be 57 years old. Jenise would have turned 11 this year.

At the beginning of the hearing, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery told Forbes that she would hear about Gaeta’s “tough childhood.”

“At least he got one,” Montgomery said.

The hearing Monday was unusual for a sentencing hearing, as Gaeta’s attorney, Jeniece LaCross, gave a presentation required by the Supreme Court in which Forbes heard from a University of Washington child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Terry Lee, an associate professor at the university, explained to Forbes the science that guided the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, which is that adolescent brains function differently than adult brains. Because they are more impulsive and less capable of understanding consequences, they are less culpable for their actions.

“It’s not just that their brain isn’t as developed, adolescents use a different part of the brain when dealing with emotional problems,” Lee said.

He used car rentals as an example of how the law is catching up with modern understanding of brain development. Traditionally those under the age of 25 were barred from renting cars, a reflection of the insurance industry’s research into when risk-taking behaviors appear to subside. Lee said brain research shows that the brain doesn’t develop into an “adult brain” until a person’s mid-20s.

Montgomery challenged Lee’s analogy of renting a car when dealing with a case where a 17-year-old raped and strangled a child.

“I wouldn’t compare the two behaviors, but the same brain science would apply,” Lee said

Lee also told Forbes that the domestic violence Gabriel Gaeta witnessed and suffered as a child, along with head injuries he sustained, one of which he sustained while wrestling for Olympic High School, factored into his mental state. Additionally, Gaeta has been diagnosed with severe depression and was showing signs of increasing mental distress before Jenise’s death. He was hospitalized during the nearly four-year span between his arrest and his sentencing and forcibly medicated after he stopped communicating with his attorney.

At the hearing, Gaeta spoke only once. LaCross said he was not capable of making a verbal statement in court. He cried when his mother spoke.

Lee concluded that Gabriel Gaeta showed promise for rehabilitation, one of the factors judges are required to take into consideration when sentencing. Montgomery asked Lee if during his evaluation he asked Gaeta why he raped and murdered Jenise.

Lee said he didn’t ask.

“My understanding is he had no explanation for what happened,” Lee said.

Lee said that given Gaeta’s family support, his lack of criminal history, his involvement in positive activities like sports and band, he showed promise for rehabilitation.

Forbes said it was difficult for her to consider Gaeta’s likelihood of rehabilitation when he could not account for what he did, but she took the agreed recommendation of a minimum 40-year sentence and noted that Gaeta had spared Jenise’s loved ones and the community the public spectacle of a trial.

Forbes said it is up to Gabriel Gaeta to seek help for his mental health problems and to come to terms with his crimes.

“That’s really the only thing you have control over,” Forbes said. 

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Earl Smith was in charge of the office’s detectives at the time of Jenise’s disappearance and death but has since been transferred to patrol. He attended the hearing Monday until the end.

“It’s been a long time,” Smith said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

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