The man who killed 9-year-old Rachel Carver will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Her uncle and guardian, Jason Wickenhagen, pleaded guilty to aggravated first-degree murder Tuesday. He was sentenced immediately to mandatory life imprisonment with no chance of parole.
“She never did anything wrong,” the Spokane carwash attendant said in a soft, quavering voice. “I just killed her.”
In a hard-hitting plea bargain, prosecutors made only one concession: They agreed not to seek the death penalty.
Despite Wickenhagen’s five confessions to the June 14 bludgeoning, Spokane County Prosecutor Jim Sweetser refused to risk a lesser conviction by taking the case to trial.
“Our first and foremost issue is that he never be released - that he never have a chance to harm another child,” Sweetser said.
The senseless murder of the freckled third-grader shocked the public and sparked demand for legislation requiring sex offenders to be jailed immediately after conviction.
Wickenhagen was out of custody when he killed his niece, despite having previously pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of a 16-year-old girl.
But Rachel’s private hell only ended with her uncle.
Most of her young life was spent in homes run by dangerous, violent men. Her father, Scott Carver, molested her and her sister, according to court documents.
Scott Carver, though, spoke passionately of the family’s sorrow in court Tuesday.
“We’ll never know of her accomplishments,” he said of Rachel. “We’ll never know what kind of mother she would have been, what kind of friend she would have been to somebody.
“The only restitution we can have is the knowledge that he’ll never be free - that he’ll never have a chance to hurt anyone again.”
After pleading guilty, Wickenhagen stood and turned to face Carver and other angry relatives.
“I can’t stand here and tell you why I did it,” the defendant said, “because I don’t know why myself.”
Deputy Prosecutor Steve Kinn recited the gruesome facts of the case, causing many of those in attendance - even a burly sheriff’s deputy - to wince.
Wickenhagen, 23, attacked the child because she failed to do an early morning chore and “mocked him” on the last day of school, according to Kinn.
In a sudden rage, Wickenhagen choked Rachel with a shoelace inside their North Ash home.
He dumped her body in a trash can in the garage, covering it with grass clippings.
When she suddenly stirred, Wickenhagen debated whether to rush the girl to the hospital “or just finish her off,” he told police.
He chose murder - grabbing a hammer and striking her twice in the head.
Afterward, he hid her body at Riverside State Park, alongside Aubrey L. White Parkway.
When Rachel didn’t show up for school, a massive search began, with police and hundreds of residents combing north Spokane. The following night, the body was found.
A couple of hours later, Wickenhagen was at the police station, taking a lie-detector test.
He flunked and was arrested for murder.
After hearing all of that, Superior Court Judge Thomas Merryman said the sentence matches the crime.
“It almost numbs the senses,” he said.
“It’s mentally staggering.”
Defense attorney Jim Sheehan said his client shouldn’t be viewed as a monster. Wickenhagen was raped repeatedly as a child - in his home and while in the care of a counselor for troubled youths, Sheehan said.
After spending time in a mental institution, he moved to Spokane, where he married and had a daughter.
Years passed, but the psychological wounds didn’t heal.
Said Sheehan: “He wants it understood - there are a lot of Jason Wickenhagens out there who are suffering and have a lot of anger inside them.”
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