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News / Northwest

Three men sentenced to life in prison for killing family in Washington

By Associated Press
Published: May 8, 2024, 4:13pm

PORT ORCHARD — Three men found guilty of killing a family in Washington state in 2017 over alleged drugs and money were sentenced to life in prison without without the possibility of parole.

Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull on Tuesday sentenced Danie Kelly Jr., 45, Robert Watson III, 52, and Watson’s brother Johnny Watson, 50, after the victims’ family members spoke in court, the Kitsap Sun reported.

Each man was sentenced to four life sentences, one for each count of first-degree murder. They were each sentenced to additional time for attempted murder convictions and firearm enhancements. A jury in April found them guilty.

Christale Careaga, 37, Hunter Schaap and Johnathon Higgins, both 16, were found dead in their burned home west of Seattle on the Kitsap Peninsula on Jan. 27, 2017. The remains of John Careaga, 43, were found inside a scorched truck at a tree farm.

The Careagas owned a successful Mexican restaurant in Bremerton. In court documents, detectives said John Careaga also brought cocaine from California every couple months to sell locally.

A close friend of his began selling the cocaine to Robert Watson, whom detectives identified as a leader in a local chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle club, authorities said. Investigators have said the killings weren’t related to the club.

Careaga’s friend eventually stopped selling, and the next time Careaga went to California to get the drugs, Robert Watson traveled there “on John’s heels,” and dialogue between the two intensified until the day of the homicides, according to investigators.

John Careaga’s attorney told authorities that Careaga had hidden hundreds of thousands of dollars underneath his home, but that money was never found.

According to the court records, detectives said more than $300,000 had been deposited into Robert Watson’s accounts in 2017 and that there were “numerous cash deposits that the source could not be identified.”

Kelly was associated with the Bandidos as a “hang-around,” and had been a good friend of Careaga before a falling out, detectives said.

A neighbor of the Careagas heard gunshots at the house the day of the murders and reported seeing John Careaga’s truck speeding away, with Kelly at the wheel and another car following close behind.

Defense attorneys during the trial worked to cast doubt on the timeline and cellphone towers used to track the trio’s movements and argued that no evidence existed of anything being taken from the Careaga home.

Relatives of the victims in court described the pain that has been inflicted on the blended family since their deaths.

John Careaga was described as a loving father and uncle who would entertain the nine children who relied on him. Crystal Careaga was described as a personable and contagious “bright light;” Johnathon Higgins was a “big teddy bear;” and Hunter Schaap, was noted for his courage, particularly the night of the murders when he called 911 to report intruders at the family home.

Kelly and the Watson brothers declined the opportunity to speak in court.