Rachel Carver’s uncle confessed to killing his redhaired niece, according to police reports.
Jason Wickenhagen, already awaiting sentencing on a sex offense, was arrested late Thursday after the 9-year-old’s body was found in a cardboard box along a road in northwest Spokane.
Wickenhagen, 23, was charged Friday with premeditated first-degree murder and bail was set at $1 million. If convicted, he could be executed.
During questioning Thursday, police say, he told detectives he murdered the girl.
However, in an interview with The Spokesman-Review on Friday, Wickenhagen said he didn’t kill Rachel. Instead, he told a story of three men coming to his home Wednesday morning - upset he owed them $25 - and telling him to choke Rachel, then drown her in the bathtub.
One of the men “told me if I didn’t do it, I would be gone and Rachel would be gone and he’d have his way with the rest of them,” Wickenhagen said in an interview at the county jail.
He looked down during most of the interview, yawned several times and paused for a moment before he said he remembered Rachel asking why he was harming her.
Wickenhagen said Rachel was still breathing when he took her out of the tub and put her in the garage. He said the men killed her, although he doesn’t know how. One ordered him to hide her body, he said.
Police dismissed Wickenhagen’s latest version of the story, speculating he was laying the groundwork for an insanity defense.
The third-grade Ridgeview student suffered a skull fracture to the back of her head, likely caused from a blunt weapon with a small surface, such as a hammer, autopsy results indicate.
There was no sign of sexual abuse. Rachel’s body was clothed in dark pants, which were buttoned, and a purple blouse. She was barefoot.
Police said her body was found in a box beneath some bushes alongside Aubrey L. White Parkway. Curled in a fetal position, she was partially covered with grass clippings. She had been dead at least 10 hours.
Police roped off and guarded the Wickenhagen’s house on North Ash Friday. Searching for clues, they even took grass clippings to compare with those found on Rachel’s body.
Hundreds of Spokane residents joined a search for Rachel shortly after she was reported missing Wednesday. Neighbors and friends combed the streets, hanging fliers with a picture of the girl’s smiling face.
Wickenhagen joined the search and expressed grief to reporters and police who flocked to Ridgeview Elementary School, where Rachel was a third-grader. He insisted he wanted to find the child and bring her home.
Detectives questioned Wickenhagen Wednesday and again Thursday. He stuck by his original story, claiming he walked Rachel halfway to Ridgeview Elementary School on Wednesday morning.
Wickenhagen failed a polygraph test Thursday evening, but police still did not have enough evidence to arrest him.
A few hours later, the girl’s body was found and detectives were able to trace the cardboard box back to Wickenhagen. The box had been used by Wickenhagen and his wife, Rene, during a move and had handwriting on it indicating its former contents.
Police said Wickenhagen, a carwash attendant for White Swan on Five Mile Road, confessed shortly after his arrest.
They believe Wickenhagen killed Rachel at their house, 4619 N. Ash, on Wednesday morning. It was supposed to be her last day of school before summer vacation. He was alone with the girl.
Wickenhagen and his wife have been caring for their niece since last fall. Rene Wickenhagen is not a suspect but will be asked to take a polygraph test, police said.
If not for court delays, Wickenhagen might have been in prison at the time of Rachel’s killing.
Spokane County deputy prosecutor Dawn Cortez was prepared last month to ask a judge to send Wickenhagen to prison for five years on a previous indecent liberties conviction.
Wickenhagen pleaded guilty to the charge, which was reduced from attempted first-degree rape. According to court records, he held a gun to a teenage girl’s face, fondled her and demanded sex. He finally let the victim go after she told him she was pregnant. He blamed the attack on being high on LSD.
The sentencing date for that charge, however, was postponed twice. The first delay came when state Department of Corrections officials needed more time to complete a pre-sentencing evaluation on Wickenhagen, something that is done in every sexual assault case.
The report details a defendant’s criminal history and psychiatrists’ opinions on how well the defendant will respond to treatment.
The second delay came May 31, when Wickenhagen’s public defender, Terence Ryan, said he needed more time to review the completed report. Ryan could not be reached for comment Friday.
“It’s really, really awful,” Cortez said of the case. “It’s unfortunate that there were delays, but it’s not uncommon.”
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The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bonnie Harris Staff writers Staff writers Gita Sitaramiah and Jim Lynch contributed to this report.