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$1 Million Bail Set For Teen Suspect In Slaying, Rape Of 6-Year-Old Washington Girl

By Christine Clarridge, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The 17-year-old neighbor of Jenise Wright wasn’t arrested until Aug. 9, but he had caught the attention of investigators several days before, according to court documents filed in Kitsap Superior Court.

A Kitsap Superior Court judge on Monday ordered Gabriel Z. Gaeta held for investigation of first-degree murder, felony murder, and first-degree rape of a child. Bail for the teen, an acclaimed wrestler for Olympic High School with no criminal history, was set at $1 million.

The teen was led into court, where his mother, stepfather, and Jenise Wright’s parents were seated, wearing an orange jumpsuit with a jacket over his face. The judge granted a defense request that his face not be photographed until charges are formally filed.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said Gaeta will be charged as an adult because of the seriousness of the crimes he is alleged to have committed, but he will be kept at the county’s juvenile detention center until he turns 18 in December.

In an interview Monday, the slain girl’s father said the suspect was a “close friend of the family.”

James Wright said the teen had been to his family’s house “many, many times” and was a friend of their older children.

He had taken the teen under his wing and taught him how to chop firewood to make extra money, he said.

Wright said he and his wife know they will ultimately have to forgive Gaeta in order to heal, but it’s hard.

“It’s devastating. It almost would have been easier if it was a stranger,” he said.

Jenise Wright, 6, was last seen around bedtime Saturday, Aug. 2. She was gone Sunday morning, but her father and her mother, Denise Wright, were not immediately alarmed because she was allowed free range of the mobile home park. They called 911 when she had not returned by Sunday night, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On Monday, Aug. 4, while the public was still being urged to help “bring Jenise home” and hundreds of law enforcement agents were converging on the park and its surrounds, searchers discovered child’s clothing, according to the certificate of probable cause outlining the state’s case against the defendant.

It was identified as Jenise’s by her mother, and a field test on the clothing revealed it was stained by blood, court documents say.

That same day, as part of a door-to-door canvas of the neighborhood, FBI special agents Matt Yeager and Mike Baldino went to Gaeta’s house, which is near the heavily wooded perimeter of the park where the clothing was found, court documents say.

The teen was there, but his stepfather and mother said he was “too upset to really speak with” or to give a voluntary DNA sample. They confirmed the boy had been home all weekend, and asked the agents to return later, court documents say.

It is not noted in court documents, but the agents found the teen’s behavior odd and believed he was “someone to keep an eye on,” according to a source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A forensic examination of the clothing on Aug. 6 by the Washington State Crime Lab determined the blood on it belonged to a female biological child of James and Denise Wright. It also extracted male DNA from the clothing, police and prosecutors say.

On Thursday, Aug. 7, the girl’s body was found 15 to 20 feet from where the clothing was discovered in a 3- to 4-foot-deep muddy bog on a heavily wooded and overgrown slope, police said.

The body was submerged in mud and covered with a wooden pallet, the court documents say.

An autopsy on Friday determined the girl had been raped, struck in the head, and strangled, court documents allege.

That same day, an FBI agent returned to Gaeta’s home and obtained a voluntary DNA sample from the teen, prosecutors said. The agent noted that “he was leaning against the wall, barely able to get out of bed, and emotionally upset,” court documents say.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, the state crime lab matched Gaeta’s DNA to that found in Jenise’s clothing and he was arrested, court documents say.

Prosecutors said he became upset when asked by investigators about the girl’s disappearance.

He 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,” according to the court document.

The teen continued in that manner until investigators left the room, at which point, he got up, stretched, yawned, and wiped his nose, court documents say.

Eventually, the teen is alleged to have nodded his head “yes” when investigators asked him if he was the only one involved in Jenise’s death, prosecutors said.

Police found bloodstained clothing and a blood-and mud-covered towel when they searched his room after the arrest, according to the court documents.

On Monday, James and Denise Wright appeared at a child-custody hearing in the Kitsap County Youth Services Center hoping to regain custody of three of their five other children.

The eldest children are adults and live in the Bellingham area, the family said. The third-eldest was staying with his older siblings the weekend that Jenise disappeared. The other two, who are 8 and 12, were removed from the home by Child Protective Services on Aug. 4.

They were also placed with the two adult siblings, James Wright said.

At the hearing, representatives of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, of which Denise Wright is a member, indicated it wanted to be involved in the custody matter and would be bringing the parents up to Bellingham so the family and the community could grieve together.

After the hearing, James Wright vowed to fight for his children and thanked the community for their prayers. He said he and his wife were able to feel the love and concern of every one of them.

Seattle Times reporter Andrew Mannix and researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Mat Hayward

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Life Sentence To Be Sought For Suspect In Seattle University Shooting

By Christine Clarridge and Jennifer Sullivan, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Sometime before Aaron Rey Ybarra unleashed a barrage of gunfire last week that left one student dead and two wounded at Seattle Pacific University, he stopped taking his mental-health medications to sharpen his rage, according to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

“He wanted to feel the hate,” Satterberg said Tuesday at a news conference to announce his office would be seeking a sentence of life in prison for the 26-year-old Mountlake Terrace man.

In the weeks before Thursday’s shooting, Ybarra contemplated which school to target, considering Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and Central Washington University before settling on the small Free Methodist university closer to home, according to Satterberg.

He even visited the SPU campus a week or so before the shooting and was shown around by “a helpful academic counselor and friendly students,” Satterberg said.

In a journal recovered by police, Ybarra wrote that he admired the mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech and considered the suicidal killers his role models, said Satterberg. In his final journal entry the morning of the shooting, Satterberg said Ybarra wrote of his excitement: “I just want people to die, and I’m going to die with them!”

Ybarra has been charged with one count of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault. All of the charges carry firearms allegations that could increase the sentences.

If convicted as charged, Ybarra could face a sentence of 69 to 86 years, Satterberg said. However, under what he called a “rarely used” provision of state sentencing law, prosecutors will seek an exceptional sentence “designed for this type of outrageous act of public violence,” he said.

According to the law, a judge can impose a life sentence if a jury finds that the “offense involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.”

Satterberg, in a prepared statement, said the shootings reverberated far beyond the SPU community.

“The truth is that crime of random and senseless violence took a toll well beyond the student who was killed, those who were injured, and their immediate families,” he said. “Though it is impossible to measure, I believe that our entire community suffers a profound loss each time there is an incident of mass violence.”

Ybarra’s defense attorney, Ramona Brandes, has not disputed accounts of the shooting, but maintains Ybarra suffers from mental illness and was unaware of his actions “until he heard a girl screaming.”

She said Tuesday a decision on whether to mount a mental-illness defense has not been made.

“We have to look at his symptoms he manifested in the past, his treatment and his jail records to determine whether his mental illness arises to the level of a defense. These are choices he’s going to be involved in,” Brandes said. “He wasn’t on his meds and he committed an action that is incomprehensible. Had he been on his meds, would this have happened? We’ll continue asking that for all time.”

Ybarra drove his pickup to SPU and parked near Otto Miller Hall around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, according to charging documents. He was armed with a double-barreled shotgun, 50 rounds of ammunition and a large hunting knife, the documents say. The shotgun was loaded with lead birdshot, with smaller pellets typically used to hunt birds, prosecutors say.

According to the charging documents:

Ybarra encountered a group of students outside the hall and fired without provocation, fatally wounding 19-year-old Paul Lee, of Portland. The pellets from that shot caused minor injuries to another student, Thomas Fowler Jr.

“Ybarra then turned his gun on a female student, but the lower barrel of the shotgun malfunctioned and would not fire,” prosecutors wrote.

He reloaded the top barrel of the shotgun and entered Otto Miller Hall.

Ybarra pointed his shotgun at a student who was studying near the front door with headphones on, oblivious to what was happening. For unknown reasons, he decided not to shoot him.

He then turned his attention to another student, Sarah Williams, 19, who was coming down a flight of stairs.

“Without warning, he shot her from a few feet away,” charging documents say.

Williams remains hospitalized.

While Ybarra was reloading, Jon Meis, a student-safety monitor, rushed from his office, sprayed pepper spray into Ybarra’s eyes, grabbed the shotgun and took it to his office.

Meis then returned, tackled Ybarra, disarmed him of the hunting knife and, with the help of another student, held him until police arrived.

Satterberg called Meis a “reluctant and humble” hero. He also characterized him as a “role model.”

“He recognized the danger, he saw a moment where the shooter was reloading, and quickly moved in with pepper spray,” Satterberg said.

In his first public statement since Thursday’s shootings, Meis on Monday credited “God’s grace” for his actions in subduing the gunman.

Satterberg said Ybarra’s gun was legally purchased years ago from a Kenmore shooting range where he previously worked. He said Ybarra was legally allowed to own a gun, as there was no evidence he had been involuntarily committed for 14 days or more.

Brandes, the defense attorney, said she was disappointed to read of Satterberg’s remarks at Tuesday’s news conference.

“I am disappointed in Satterberg making a media statement characterizing this in a morality term of evil when he knows the defendant suffers from mental illness. It’s documented he suffers from mental illness; it’s documented he wasn’t taking his medications. People who suffer from mental illness, it’s really unfair to make those kinds of broad sweeping moral judgment. They’re struggling with an illness that we as a society don’t understand, don’t properly treat and don’t give access to treatment. We don’t monitor the treatment.”
But despite his mental illness, as the video below will highlight, Ybarra still managed to get his hands on a gun.

Brandes said she doesn’t understand the need to push for an exceptional sentence because the charges already carry a lengthy prison term if he’s convicted.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist, who used the same exceptional-sentence provision against those accused of rendering aid to police killer Maurice Clemmons, said it’s an appropriate call.

“The SPU shooter is, in my opinion, another poster boy for the destructive impact on the community,” said Lindquist.

In the case of those who assisted Clemmons — who killed four Lakewood police officers in 2009 — jurors had no problem accepting prosecutors’ contentions that the crime’s impact was enormous and went beyond the victims and their families, said Lindquist.

However, it remains to be seen whether the 2005 law holds up under scrutiny from the state Supreme Court, where appeals from several of the Clemmons defendants are under review.

“Not many crimes meet the legal standard necessary to argue they had a destructive impact on the community at large, but mass shootings fit perfectly,” he said.

Photo: Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Common
Video via NDN

Kansas Attack Brings Back Painful Memories In Seattle

By Christine Clarridge, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Cheryl Stumbo felt like she’d been “hit with a ton of bricks” when she learned of the fatal shootings at two Jewish facilities in suburban Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday, allegedly by a white supremacist.

“A shooting on the eve of Passover, a Jewish community center, a hate crime with guns. It’s so unbelievably bad, it knocked me off my feet,” said Stumbo, who survived a gunman’s attack at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle nearly eight years ago.

Stumbo, who has since become an advocate and activist for changes in gun laws, said she could not stop crying for hours after learning of Sunday’s shootings.

Stumbo and five colleagues were shot on July 28, 2006, when Naveed Afzal Haq walked into the federation and opened fire.

Director Pamela Waechter was hit in chest then tried to flee.

Haq chased her down and shot her in the head, killing her.

Stumbo spent six weeks in the hospital recovering from her injuries.

Haq was given two life sentences and an additional 120 years in 2010 for the shootings.

Jurors said they didn’t accept the defense’s contention that Haq was criminally insane at the time of the shootings.

During the seven-week trial, witnesses testified that Haq, who is of Pakistani heritage, railed against Jews and U.S.-Israeli policies as he opened fire in the Jewish Federation, an umbrella organization for the local Jewish community that raises money for social-welfare organizations, runs youth and adult educational programs, and engages in efforts supporting Israel.

Prosecutors agreed that Haq had a mental illness but contended he was sane when he entered the federation and opened fire.

Since the 2006 shooting, Stumbo, 51, has become an advocate for gun responsibility, working as the outreach associate for Mayors Against Illegal Guns and serving on the board of two gun-responsibility alliances.

“One of the biggest tragedies about (Sunday’s shootings) is that it was preventable. Here is a guy who had a history of violence with firearms and yet he, the last person in the world who should have had access to firearms, had access to firearms,” Stumbo said Monday.

Jim DiPeso, the marketing and communications manager for Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said Sunday’s shootings served as a reminder.

“Any time an event like this occurs, it is a reminder of what we experienced eight years ago and a reminder that we always have to keep safety and security paramount,” he said.

Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT

Police Review Details Of Kurt Cobain’s Death As 20th Anniversary Approaches

By Christine Clarridge, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — In preparation for expected media interest in the upcoming 20-year anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, the Seattle Police Department asked a detective to review the investigation into the rock legend’s suicide.

The high-profile case had been the subject of countless books, articles, rumors, speculation and theories over the years, and the department’s media office wanted someone to have a thorough understanding of the facts, according to police.

Cold-case Detective Michael Ciesynski said Thursday that the review revealed no new information, but he did develop four canisters of 35mm film that was included in the case film but previously unprocessed. Disputing one media report, he said the case was not being reopened.

Police on Thursday released two of the shots, one shows what Ciesynski called a narcotics user’s kit — a cigar box filled with syringes, cotton, a spoon and suspected heroin. It was almost identical to a similar Polaroid image of the kit that previously had been released, police said.

The second photo shows the closed cigar box, as well as sunglasses, a pack of cigarettes, a cap, cash, wallet and lighter.

Police spokeswoman Renee Witt said overall the photographs were “underwhelming.” She said the department plans to release some of the new photographs and answer questions April 5, the anniversary of Cobain’s death.

Other new photos, the ones that show Cobain’s body, will not be released.

The 27-year-old Nirvana singer and guitarist was found dead of a gunshot wound with a shotgun across his body in his home on Lake Washington Boulevard East on April 8, 1994.

Gary Smith, an electrician who found the body, said that he found a suicide note that ended with “I love you, I love you.”

The police investigation determined that Cobain had committed suicide three days before, on April 5. Despite that finding, there are some who have theorized the troubled Nirvana frontman had died as the result of foul play.

Ciesynski said the rolls of film hadn’t been developed for several reasons.

One reason is that the King County Medical Examiner’s Office had taken its own set of photographs that were used once it was determined the death was a suicide.

In addition, police also had a series of Polaroid pictures that showed the same images that were on the 35mm film but from slightly different angles.

Finally, shortly after Cobain’s death, his estate asked police to try to keep photographs from being leaked or used for unscrupulous purposes, according to police records.

Police decided at that time it would be easier to keep the photographs from being circulated if they were not developed, according to the investigative report.

On Thursday, Ciesynski said that he decided to go ahead and have the film developed to put to rest conspiracy theories and speculation about what was in the rolls of film. But nothing new was disclosed, Ciesynski said.

He said his review left him convinced that the original investigators did a thorough job and that Cobain’s death was a suicide.

According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, Cobain died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head and toxicology reports showed that he had a lethal dose of heroin in his body at the time of his death.

In the days and weeks after Cobain’s death, detectives spent more than 200 hours interviewing his family and friends, his reputed heroin dealer and others. A handwriting expert was hired to review the note found by Cobain’s body to make sure it was authentic.

According to police reports released shortly after his death, Cobain had purchased a shotgun, fled a drug-treatment facility, fought with his wife, Courtney Love, and threatened to kill himself in his last weeks.

Photo: Paul via Flickr