Superior Court Judge Jennifer Forbes has ruled that Gabriel Gaeta, accused in the rape and murder of 6-year-old Jenise Wright two years ago, could face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Forbes issued her ruling on Friday, July 29, and in the 12-page ruling she observed that a key case typically cited in questions like this did not prevent the court from raising the minimum sentencing option and impose life without possibility of parole.
Defense attorney Roger Hunko had argued at a sentencing hearing on July 27 that a U.S. Supreme Court hearing from 2012, Miller v. Alabama, seemed to apply. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without possibility of parole, when applied to cases involving a minor, violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. At that hearing, Forbes took the matter under advisement and said she would issue a ruling before the trial. That trial is now scheduled for Oct. 10. Forbes issued her decision just two days later
What apparently distinguished the Gaeta case was the fact that, although Gaeta was several months shy of his 18th birthday, he is being tried as an adult. Other considerations take into account a defendant’s age, emotional maturity and ability to understand the consequences of his or her actions.
“We’re pleased with the Court’s ruling,” said prosecuting attorney Chad Enright.
Defense attorneys have the option of appealing Forbes’ decision to the Division II Court of Appeals, but the appeals court does not have to review the case. On Monday, Aug. 3, Hunko said that he would need to talk to both Gaeta and his co-defense counsel, Jeniece LaCross, before announcing whether Gaeta would appeal.
Jenise Wright disappeared on Aug. 3, 2014. Her body was found near her home in Steele Creek in East Bremerton four days later, and when the coroner examined her body, they found Gaeta’s DNA on her clothing. When detectives talked to Gaeta on Aug. 9, he became agitated but said no one else was involved.