3 found guilty in Kitsap court of 4 murders

A 12-member jury delivered a guilty verdict in Kitsap County Superior Court April 5 on all counts against Danie Kelly Jr., Johnny Watson and Robert Watson III for the 2017 quadruple murders of the blended Careaga household in Seabeck.

Tears fell from the faces of family and friends of the deceased victims inside a packed and emotional courtroom as Judge Kevin Hull read the decisions. The three men were found guilty on all 10 felony charges in the brutal murders of John Derek Careaga, 43; Christale Lynn Careaga, 37; and 16-year-olds Hunter Evan Schaap and Jonathon Felipe Higgins.

John Careaga’s son, Jeremy, described the moment the verdicts were read as a long-awaited explosion of emotion and relief.

“I’ve never felt a bigger weight lifted off of my shoulders,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was as surprised when the second and third (readings) came around, but I couldn’t help being a little bit uncertain.”

The minutes after audience members were escorted from the courtroom were filled with deep embraces and sobs of relief. “I’m just happy that we’re putting these child killers away,” said Anthony Martinez, a cousin to John Careaga. “You can’t expect to kill all these people and not leave a trail.”

Police discovered the bodies of Christale, Hunter and Jonathon inside their burned home in Central Kitsap on Jan. 27, 2017. John’s remains were discovered days later in a burned truck found in Mason County.

Years of waiting for answers and clues as to who was responsible haunted the family. Even after the arrests of Kelly and the Watson brothers in 2022, the months of drawn-out court proceedings were a pain to those still mourning the loss.

“It was excruciating,” Jeremy said. There’s been several times where the court’s shut down due to COVID or the holiday break. I just don’t even know the words to describe it.”

Years of investigative work and attempts to build a case ensued from officials of the Kitsap County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices, an investigation that uncovered a world of drugs, gang affiliations and torn relationships. Sheriff John Gese noted the investigation’s especially difficult toll on family members in a news conference after the court’s adjournment.

“Today’s verdict comes after a long and painful wait for families and loved ones,” Gese said. “They have endured more than seven years of grief as they await justice in the tragic loss of these four individuals. It’s taken thousands of hours of painstaking investigation, and hard work by a large team of professionals to achieve this well-deserved guilty verdict.”

More than 1,800 pieces of evidence were gathered from the local to federal levels of investigation, Gese said, and the collaborative effort ended in what all parties had wished to see: justice. I’ve never really been more proud of the effort that people in our agency and all of our collaborative partners have made. Seven years of effort, and this case has never been considered a cold case,” the sheriff said.

Prosecutor Chad Enright praised the efforts of the legal team of Kelly Montgomery, Phil Bacus and Lael Carlson. Montgomery “personally dedicated herself to this case and that family. I can’t imagine how much it means to her,” he said.

The convicted men are tentatively scheduled to be sentenced May 7 at 9 a.m.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull reads the guilty verdicts handed down by jurors.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull reads the guilty verdicts handed down by jurors.