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A former Washington psych nurse will likely die in prison for the 1986 murder of a 12-year-old that he was linked to through DNA.
That DNA evidence led to the Tuesday conviction of Gary Hartman, 70, for the 1986 rape and murder of pre-teen Michella Welch in Tacoma, Washington, KOMO News reports. He was found guilty of first degree murder during the bench trial he had requested after less than two hours, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.
Hartman, a former nurse, apologized and sobbed during the hearing.
“I’m so sorry," he cried, according to KOMO. "I’m so sorry. God knows I’m so sorry. That doesn’t help. I’m just sorry.”
Hartman, who used a walker in the courtroom, will likely die behind bars. Judge Stanley Rumbaugh sentenced him to 26 years and six months in prison.
During the trial, prosecutors maintained that Hartman, then in his 30s, attacked Welch after she got separated from her family inside a park. She was later found dead in a ravine after being sexually assaulted and beaten to death. At the time, Hartman lived little more than a mile away from the entrance to the park.
In the years following the child’s rape and murder, Hartman stayed in the area and became a registered nurse. He was hired by the state of Washington and worked at Western State Hospital, an in-patient psychiatric facility that includes a secure ward for the criminally insane in 1998.
In 2018, a genetic genealogist at Parabon Nanolabs analyzed DNA left at the scene and narrowed down the search to Hartman and his brother. Police then collected a sample of Hartman’s DNA that he left on a napkin in a coffee shop.
Before he was sentenced, Welch’s family had their chance to make statements.
“I say ‘lock him up and throw away the key,’” Barbara Leonard, the child’s mother told the judge, according to KOMO. “And now he will pay the price."
"However it will not bring her back, but justice will have been served," she added. "I just pray that he can find repentance and forgiveness with God.”
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