PORT ORCHARD, Wash. (AP) — Three men accused of killing a family in Washington state five years ago pleaded not guilty on Tuesday when detectives claimed the killings were “drug related.” and money,” and warned that further arrests could come for “people who were dishonest to us.”
The four members of the blended Careaga family were found executed in January 2017 – Christale Careaga, 37, and two 16-year-old boys, Johnathon Higgins and Hunter Schaap, in their burned-out home on the Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle; and Christale’s husband, John Careaga, 43, two days later in his torched pickup truck at a tree farm.
Kitsap County Sheriff’s Detectives arrested Danie J. Kelly Jr., 43, Monday; Robert J Watson III, 50; and Watson’s brother Johnny J. Watson, 49. The trio on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to crimes which include aggravated murder, arson and burglary. Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull ordered her held without bail.
“We’ve wanted answers for five years,” Carly Schaap, Hunter’s mother, said Tuesday, according to the Kitsap Sun newspaper. “These are horrible individuals who committed heinous crimes against four people and rocked our community.”
The Careagas owned Juanito’s Taqueria, a successful Mexican restaurant in Bremerton. In court documents reported by the newspaper, detectives described John Careaga as “a family man” who “stands up for himself” — but who also, on a part-time basis, brought in a kilo of cocaine from California every few months to sell locally.
A close friend of Careaga’s began selling the cocaine to suspect Robert Watson, who detectives identified as a leader at a local chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle club, authorities said. Careaga’s friend eventually stopped selling, and when Careaga next went to California to get the drugs, Watson made a trip there “on John’s heels,” and the dialogue between the two intensified up until the day of the murders, according to investigators .
John Careaga’s attorney told authorities Careaga hid hundreds of thousands of dollars under his home, but that money was never found, investigators said.
According to court records, Robert Watson, a Kitsap County Public Works employee, stopped going to work and was eventually fired in September 2017. Detectives said about $303,000 was deposited into his accounts that year and that there were “numerous cash deposits the source could not be identified.”
One of the accused, Kelly, has been linked to the Bandidos as a “hang-around” – Robert Watson sponsored his membership of the organization, detectives said. He was also once a good friend of Careaga’s, even serving as best man at Careaga’s first wedding before a falling out.
“The motive for the crime is complicated — it’s about drugs, money, there’s definitely some personality conflicts,” Detective Sgt. Lissa Gundrum told a news conference Tuesday.
Gundrum said she had long known of Kelly’s involvement in the case but that an extensive investigation using cellphone location data, interviews and other evidence was needed to determine who else might have been guilty.
Kelly bought a prepaid cell phone that was used almost exclusively to communicate with John Careaga in the 10 days leading up to the murders, court documents say. Also, detectives wrote, a neighbor of the Careagas who heard the shots fired at the home reported seeing John Careaga’s truck with Kelly at the wheel and another car close behind.
“Danie and John hated each other so much that Danie had nothing to do with being at John’s house or driving his truck,” detectives wrote in a probable cause statement.
Unanswered questions remain about the case – including where John Careaga and his truck were being held before they were found at the tree farm, Gundrum said: “We know there’s another crime scene somewhere. We know there are more people who are either involved or have information.”
She also warned that there could be more arrests.
“For those people who have been dishonest with us, or who may have held back, we are asking you to come forward now and provide the information that we need,” Gundrum said. “I understand why they might have had some concerns initially, but now is really the right time.”
The president of the local Bandidos chapter was cooperating with the investigation, she said. She has heard from club members that they do not stand up for a member who kills women and children.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s club related,” she said. “I think they happen to be members of the Bandidos Club.”
Aggravated murder carries a life sentence without possibility of release.
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