Gaeta found competent to stand trial for 2014 rape, murder

Gaeta’s competency restored after medication and evaluation at Western State Hospital.

PORT ORCHARD — Gabriel Gaeta, the man accused of the 2014 rape and murder of 6-year-old Jenise Wright, has been found competent to stand trial after an evaluation by doctors at Western State Hospital.

Gaeta was initially found not competent in February, at which time Superior Court Judge Jennifer Forbes ordered the defendant’s admission to the Lakewood hospital for a period of up to 90 days for “competency restoration” and a further evaluation of his ability to move ahead with his trial.

According to Gaeta’s latest evaluation, psychologists found Gaeta “demonstrated a factual and rational understanding of his current charges and of court procedures.” Although he presented “continuous symptoms of an underlying mood disorder,” it was determined his symptoms did not diminish his ability to assist his attorney “with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” These two factors form the legal criteria for competency to stand trial.

However, psychologists also noted the evaluation occurred “during a time that Mr. Gaeta was compliant with his psychiatric medication, in a controlled environment, in a controlled environment, and provided with reasonable psychiatric accommodations,” the Aug. 2 report said.

Doctors also reported Gaeta’s desire to stop taking medications and his history of “severe depressive episodes during periods of heightened stress,” which could compromise his mental capacity to continue with the trial in the future.

Gaeta was admitted on May 16 and he was placed under close observation due to his “reported history of engaging in behaviors that appeared to reflect suicidal ideation.” Gaeta refused to take psychiatric medication immediately following his admission to the hospital.

Following a violent incident with staff members — it was reported Gaeta was “laying down and facing the wall” with a pillow covering his head, and refused to comply with orders to turn away from the wall; the staff attempted to turn him, and he began to physically assault them — Kitsap County Superior Court ordered his involuntary medication for the purposes of “regaining his competency to stand trial.”

Gaeta’s condition improved upon taking regular medication, though it worsened again after reviewing discovery material given to him by his attorney, leading to the conclusion that a combination of stopping medication and the rigors of a trial could lead to the deterioration of his competency.

The crime

Gaeta is accused of raping and murdering Jenise, his neighbor in the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park in East Bremerton. Gaeta was 17 at the time of the alleged crime but was charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree rape of a child.

Jenise’s disappearance garnered national media attention. Her body was found in the woods near the park on Aug. 7, several days after she was reported missing.

A search warrant executed on Gaeta’s home led to the discovery of blood-stained clothes and a towel. A DNA sample taken from Gaeta matched those taken at the crime scene, which led to his arrest.

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