Man who killed Tacoma girl in 1986 sentenced

Posted at 7:04 AM, March 24, 2022 and last updated 7:45 PM, July 12, 2023

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A man who killed a 12-year-old girl in a Tacoma park in 1986 is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Gary Hartman, 70, was found guilty Tuesday during a bench trial of first-degree murder in the death of Michella Welch, The News Tribune reported.

FILE – Michella Welch (Tacoma Police Department)

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh sentenced Hartman to more than 26 years in prison. Hartman cried and apologized in court.

Welch was killed March 26, 1986, after taking her two younger sisters to play in Puget Park.

At some point, she went home to get sandwiches for lunch. Her sisters, who left the park to find a restroom, returned and saw Welch’s bike and the lunches but did not find Welch.

Detectives believe Welch went looking for her sisters. Witnesses saw her talking to a man pointing down a trail into a ravine. That night, a search dog found Welch’s body in the nearby gulch.

She had been sexually assaulted and killed by a cut to the neck and blunt force trauma to the head.

Hartman was arrested in 2018 after a genetic genealogist used a DNA sample from the crime scene to build a family tree that eventually led police to Hartman.

Defense attorney Bryan Hershman described Hartman’s childhood as “hell,” detailing sexual assault and domestic abuse.