Without death penalty: Quadruple murderers facing life sentences on May 7th

As Kitsap County braces for the sentencing of three convicted murderers on May 7th, the community reflects on the emotionally grueling path toward justice for four slain family members. Without the option of a death penalty in Washington state, brothers Robert and Johnny Watson, and Danie Kelly Jr. – face life imprisonment for their crimes.

Each was convicted of ten felony charges, including four counts of first-degree murder, premeditated murder and first-degree arson for the deaths of Christale and Johnny Careaga, Hunter Schaap, and Jonathon Higgins in 2017. 


Careaga family murder: 3 men found guilty in Kitsap County quadruple-killing, arson

One of Kitsap County's most horrific homicide cases has come to a close, as a jury found three men guilty of murdering a family of four "execution-style" back in 2017.

Former Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist says the killers are facing life in prison in three different ways.

First, because homicide is a serious violent crime, each sentence for murder will run consecutive to the other, stacking on so many years that they wouldn't be alive at the end. 

Then, there is the second way they could get life without the possibility of parole. "The jury returned a special verdict form declaring that two of the victims, the minors, were vulnerable victims. That will serve as a basis for an exceptional sentence of up to life within the judge's discretion," said Lindquist. 

While their defense may appeal those factors, the jury delivered a special verdict of an aggravator for multiple victims killed in the commission of a burglary.

"That calls for a mandatory life sentence for all three," said Lindquist. 

After years of waiting, Ashlynn Withem, the daughter of Christale and sister of Jonathon, said without the death penalty in Washington state, as long as all of the killers remain locked up forever, that will suffice and give her family the justice they have spent seven years waiting for. 

"I'm so happy that we can finally just put them to rest, and it's done. They will never be able to hurt someone else again. No other family of them will be able to feel this," said Withem. 

After the verdict was read on April 5th, Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese thanked the prosecutor's office and his staff for the work done on the case, choking up with emotion at one point during the news conference.   

"I've never really been prouder of the effort that people in our agency and all of our collaborative partners have made," said Sheriff Gese. 

Detective Lissa Gundrum was at the forefront, dedicating five years solely to solving this case. Her team's work in collaboration with the FBI -Seattle office collected 1,800 pieces of evidence.  It finally led to the apprehension of the three suspects in a carefully orchestrated operation that brought a wave of hope for justice across the county.

The sentencing phase will bring the final chapter to a case that has deeply affected all those involved and united a community in their quest for justice.

"We did it. You guys can finally breathe and just rest. It's done," said Withem. 


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