Family comes face to face with man accused in 1986 killing Tacoma girl

TACOMA, Wash. – The family of Michella Welch watched as her accused killer walked in shackles into the courtroom at the Pierce County Courthouse on Monday.

“Finally, I feel I have a little bit of closure,” said Barbara Leonard, Michella’s mom.

Gary Charles Hartman pleaded not guilty to first-degree rape and first-degree murder in the 1986 killing of Michella Welch.

12-year-old Welch was playing with her two sisters at Puget Park in Tacoma when, according to court documents, she went back home to get lunch for the three of them.

“Michella was like, I’ll just run and grab them real quick and come back,” said Angela Velazquez, Michella’s sister.

But she didn’t come back and search efforts came up empty.

Michella’s body was found a quarter mile from Puget Park in a wooded area.

She had been brutally murdered with signs of sexual assault, per charging documents.

Until recently, investigators could not find a match for the DNA that was found on Michella’s body.

Thirty-two years later, thanks to a positive match found from a restaurant napkin, officials were able to connect Hartman’s DNA to that found on Welch’s body.

“You never expect the face of somebody that’s done something this terrible, to look normal,” said Leonard.

Hartman was arrested last week at his Lakewood home.

“Thirty-two years later and justice still matters,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “It still matters to the family and friends of the victim, to our community, and to us.”

Hartman’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 10. He is being held at the Pierce County jail on a $5,000,000 bail.

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