Prosecutors said the suspect in the rape and murder of 6-year-old Jenise Wright, whose body was found last week in a bog not far from her Bremerton home, will not be formally charged until he undergoes a mental-competency evaluation.
Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull ordered the evaluation for Gabriel Z. Gaeta, 17, at the request of prosecutors at the teen’s bail setting hearing Monday.
Gaeta, a high-school wrestler with no previous criminal history, is being held in lieu of $1 million bail for investigation of first-degree murder, felony murder and rape of a child.
A competency evaluation is used to determine whether an accused person has the mental capacity to understand the court proceedings, the charges against them and to assist attorneys in their own defense.
Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge said his office anticipates that the teen will be found competent, but said he asked for the evaluation out of caution.
Prosecutors and investigators said in the certificate of probable cause that the teen was taking antidepressants and that he exhibited some noteworthy behaviors during interviews with detectives following his arrest.
In particular, investigators said Gaeta refused to wipe mucus or tears from his face and stared off at a spot for long periods without talking when asked about the disappearance and death of his 6-year-old neighbor.
Jenise was last seen on the evening of Aug. 2 and was reported missing Aug. 3. During a massive hunt for the child Aug. 4, some of her blood-stained clothing was recovered in the woods near the trailer park where she and Gaeta both lived.
Her body was discovered in a mud-filled hole Aug. 7
Gaeta, a friend of Jenise’s family, was arrested after the state lab matched DNA he voluntarily submitted to police with evidence recovered from the girl’s clothes, according to court documents.
The order for the competency evaluation stops the clock on the deadline for filing charges, prosecutors said.
Gaeta is expected to be charged as an adult after his next scheduled hearing Aug. 28, by which time the competency evaluation should be complete, prosecutors said.