Careaga killers sentenced to life in prison

The three men convicted of ending the lives of four members of the blended Careaga family in 2017 will live the rest of their lives in prison.

Danie Kelly Jr. and brothers Robert and Johnny Watson received the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or release May 7 for the premeditated first-degree murders of John Derek Careaga, 43; Christale Lynn Careaga, 37; and 16-year-olds Hunter Evan Schaap and Jonathon Felipe Higgins.

The men were arrested in 2022 and, after a trial that started in November of last year, were found guilty by a jury in April on 10 felony counts.

The sentencing was unsurprising, but Judge Kevin Hull found himself relatively speechless at the actions of the convicted trio when the time came for sentencing.

“The damage here is too much,” he said, shaking his head. “Too much scars. The impact is too much. There’s really nothing I am able to say that has not been said already.”

Christale, Hunter and Jonathon were discovered dead Jan. 27, 2017, their bodies left shot and bloodied inside a burned Seabeck residence. John’s remains were discovered days later in a car in Mason County that had also been set ablaze.

Hull opted to let the family speak completely for itself. “Their remarks are far more important than anything that I might have to say about this,” he said.

Emotions once again ran high inside the small, crowded Kitsap County Superior Court in Port Orchard. Tears streamed down the faces of many after hearing the families’ testimonies. Kelly and the Watson brothers had attended prior court hearings in professional attire but now wore the dark green jumpsuits of the county jail.

Hunter’s mom, Carly Schaap, assured her son would be present that day, carrying an urn containing his ashes to the prosecutors table for the convicts to see. She made clear that, along with the tragic murders, a piece of the once-happy person she was had also been ripped away.

“His heart was gold,” she said about her son. “He gave hugs and was never in a hurry to let go. He didn’t shy away from getting to know people. Hunter is a gift.”

The need now to write his name in past tense is something she called traumatizing. Brought to the deepest depths of despair, she expressed her need to rely on substances or people to cope. She said she doesn’t “do happy” anymore. “My son’s clothes remain in Ziplock bags to preserve his scent. I open them up and take deep breaths. Depression became my new normal.”

The many subsequent statements followed the same lines, adding the lengthy waits for justice in the investigation and lengthy trial forced the deadly day to be relived over and over again.

“Only God knows what is in store for those souls,” Debbie King said through tears. “They took four beautiful lives from us. Christale will never be able to hold or play with her grandsons.”

Brianna Careaga, who was 14 at the time of the murders, said: “I felt all my protectors were gone. Every birthday is a reminder that they will not get to experience another. I felt alone, as if I didn’t want to burden people with my feelings.”

The emotions were also inflated by family members who did not survive the process. John’s son, Joseph Careaga, was identified in 2018 as the deceased victim of a car accident at Hansville and Little Boston roads.

Anthony Martinez, reading a letter on behalf of others, told Hull the sentencing will not bring back the family but will send the message that unlawful actions have unlawful consequences. “Judge Hull, we ask you to show them what they live by. No mercy. If the death penalty is ever instated, we wish that they be the first in line.”

A urn containing the ashes of Hunter Schaap, brought by his mother before the court.

A urn containing the ashes of Hunter Schaap, brought by his mother before the court.

Crystal Schaap turns to return to her seat after delivering her remarks.

Crystal Schaap turns to return to her seat after delivering her remarks.