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Man convicted in 1986 rape, murder of 12-year-old in Tacoma sentenced to 26 years in prison

Gary Hartman, now 70 years old, will likely die in prison, according to the judge at his sentencing hearing.

TACOMA, Wash. — Gary Hartman, the now 70-year-old who was arrested and convicted in a 1986 Tacoma cold case thanks to DNA technology, was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison on Tuesday.

Hartman was caught and charged more than 30 years after he raped and murdered 12-year-old Michella Welch, whose body was found in a gulch near Puget Park in north Tacoma.

She was one of two girls murdered in Tacoma within a five-month span. The other girl, 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian, was killed in an unrelated incident by Robert Washburn, who pleaded guilty to the murder in 2019.

Washburn was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2019.

Hartman was caught after detectives were able to narrow down the suspects in 2018 using genetic genealogy. They knew it was Hartman after collecting a paper napkin he used to wipe his mouth at a restaurant while having breakfast with a co-worker.

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The DNA from the napkin matched the DNA that was collected from the crime scene back in 1986.

According to Hartman’s neighbors at the time of his arrest, Hartman was married and had two children. On Tuesday, his attorney said he is now divorced. 

On Tuesday during his sentencing, the judge said Hartman will likely die in prison.

“I say lock him up and throw away the key,” Welch’s mother Barbara Leonard said during the sentencing

Leonard said she felt justice was served in court on Tuesday.

"It's a relief that he's been sentenced," Leonard said. "I can't say whether or not he feels the remorse, one would hope so."

Michella's baby sister, Nicole Eby said she forgives Hartman, but added, ”Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it is remembering without pain.”

Before he was sentenced, Hartman apologized to Michella's family.

"I'm so sorry. God knows I'm so sorry, and that doesn't help. I'm just sorry," said Hartman, who cried at times during the morning hearing.

The case, along with Bastian’s murder, prompted a new bill called “Jennifer and Michella’s Law.”

Signed into law in mid-2019 by Gov. Jay Inslee, the bill sought to expand law enforcement’s DNA database. It allows detectives to obtain DNA samples from deceased sex offenders.

Those convicted of indecent exposure are required to submit samples to the state and national DNA databases.

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