By Ily Goyanes, Correspondent
PORT ORCHARD — At a competency hearing Feb. 22 in Kitsap County Superior Court, Gabriel Gaeta, the former high school wrestling star charged with raping and killing his 6-year-old neighbor, was found not competent to stand trial — but that is far from the end of the story.
The decision was primarily based on a competency evaluation provided by Western State Hospital where Gaeta is currently under treatment to achieve “competency restoration,” a term used by the court to indicate that a defendant has recovered competency and can aid in their own defense.
Gaeta allegedly raped and murdered Jenise Wright, 6, in 2014. The child’s body was found in the woods near Steele Creek Mobile Home Park in Bremerton, where she and Gaeta were neighbors, five days after she was reported missing.
A search warrant served at Gaeta’s home on the same day that the body was discovered led to the discovery of bloodstained clothes, including a pair of underwear, one shirt and a pair of shorts, as well as a bloody towel, according to court documents.
A DNA sample obtained from the defendant matched samples taken from the crime scene, leading to his arrest. He is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child, both with aggravating circumstances.
Gaeta sat with his eyes closed during most of Wednesday’s proceedings, yawning often and not making eye contact with anyone, including his mother, Tina Wright (no relation to the victim), who sat in the courtroom.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chad Enright stated that the court’s findings on Wednesday were “consistent with what was in the Western State Hospital’s report.” However, the hospital’s evaluation contained other information as well.
Superior Court Judge Jennifer Forbes, who is presiding over the case, stated in court that the competency evaluation also mentioned that Gaeta should be able to regain competency relatively quickly with the help of medication, indicating that the matter will be revisited.
Jeniece LaCross, one of Gaeta’s two defense attorneys, requested that the competency evaluation be sealed — making it unavailable to the public — on grounds of it containing “private and privileged” information about Gaeta.
After Judge Forbes asked the defense to offer specifics in support of its request, Gaeta’s other defense attorney, Roger Hunko, asked the judge to place a temporary seal on the evaluation so that the defense team could have a few days to prepare arguments.
The judge granted Hunko’s request for time to prepare. The hearing to determine whether or not the competency evaluation will be sealed is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 27.
Asked whether he thought the trial would begin in May as was discussed in court, Enright said “It’s too early to tell. The defendant has to go through the process at the hospital, which is 90 days, and then there needs to be time for him and his attorneys to meet and prepare.”
“If it does,” he concluded. “My office will be ready to proceed at that time.”