Bounty hunter trial heats up docket in Kenai

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- The closely watched trial of three bounty hunters kicked off Friday with a mockup of the entrance to the invaded home set up in the courthouse so jurors could see what went on when the men burst into a Nikiski home in 1998 to grab a fugitive.

The courtroom was filled to overflowing for the trial, which stems from an Oct. 1, 1998, incident when three men grabbed Ricky Welch, wanted in Washington, from the home of Nikiski residents Donald and Margaret Roberts.

Also living in the home at the time was Roberts' juvenile grandson.

Defense attorneys say the men acted legally to catch a wanted man. They say state laws governing bounty hunting are murky at best. Prosecutors portray the effort as a reckless adventure that scared the living daylights out of a Nikiski family. Troopers said at the time it could have led to tragedy if Roberts has tried to defend his home.

The bounty hunters, David B. Cameron, 45, Ronald L. Williams, 54, and Seth I. Oehler, 28, are each charged with three counts of third-degree assault and one count of first-degree burglary. The Anchorage process server who hired them, Steven Arturo, 34, also faces charges.

According to court documents, Arturo offered Cameron $1,000 to collar Welch, and Cameron enlisted the aid of Williams and Oehler to pick him up.

The bounty hunters allegedly donned camouflage clothing, face paint and ski masks and entered the home carrying two .45 caliber pistols and a 12-gauge shotgun.

Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell gave the Robertses an opportunity to tell their version of what happened that evening.

Defense attorneys Chuck Robinson, John Murtagh and Jim McComas followed, peppering the witnesses with questions.

The mockup of the entryway to the Robertses' home allowed the jury to watch as Don Roberts was directed to show where he had been standing when Welch was taken from the home.

The assault charges are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The burglary charge is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

The trial reconvenes Monday.

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