Bounty hunter trial takes new twist

Judge Link dismisses some charges in case; assault, trespass counts undecided assault, burglary counts

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

Kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and burglary charges against the three defendants in Kenai's bounty hunter trial were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link Saturday morning.

Charges of third-degree assault and first-degree criminal trespass against David B. Cameron, Seth I. Oehler and Ronald L. Williams remain. A ruling by Link on these charges is expected by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"We are pleased the judge recognized the charges were without merit," said Jim McComas, who represents Oehler. "We're looking forward to total vindication."

Chuck Robinson, counsel for Williams, and John Murtagh, representing Cameron, shared McComas' sentiment.

"We're awaiting the (judge's) decision on the assault charges," said McComas. "If the prosecution continues to go forward, we will continue to respond."

"On behalf of my client, we are ecstatic," said Robinson. "These charges never should have been in court in the first place."

The charges resulted from an Oct. 1, 1998, incident in which the three defendants allegedly removed Ricky Welch at gunpoint from the Nikiski home of his uncle and aunt, Don and Margaret Roberts. The action was based on a felony arrest warrant from the state of Washington.

The warrant was issued in the Superior Court of Washington for Lewis County in August 1998, for Welch's failure to appear as ordered by the court on a 1996 charge of unlawful display of a firearm. The original warrant was serviceable only in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. However, in September 1998, Washington issued a new order which included Alaska.

Information provided to Cameron, Oehler and Williams indicated the Washington charge was a felony. However, that later turned out to be inaccurate. Welch had been charged with a misdemeanor. According to Alaska statute, a police officer or a private individual can, with or without a warrant, arrest a person if that person has been accused of a felony in courts of another state. A felony is defined as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. Lesser offenses are considered misdemeanors.

As a result of the events on Oct. 1, 1998, a Kenai grand jury issued an indictment charging Cameron, Oehler and Williams each with one count of kidnapping, one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, three counts of third-degree assault and one count of first-degree burglary.

Kidnapping is an unclassified felony, punishable by a fine up to $75,000 and five to 99 years imprisonment. Conspiracy to commit kidnapping is a class "A" felony, punishable by a fine up to $50,000 and zero to 20 years imprisonment.

The assault charges are class "C" felonies, carrying a fine up to $50,000 and up to five years in prison for each count. Burglary is a class "B" felony, punishable by a fine up to $50,000 and as much as 10 years in prison.

District attorney Dwayne McConnell completed the state's prosecution Friday by presenting testimony from Sgt. Dan Donaldson of the Alaska State Troopers. Donaldson was asked questions about the interviews he had conducted with Cameron, Oehler and Williams, the Robertses and their juvenile grandson who was living with them.

Donaldson also was questioned about his interview with Welch.

Before court adjourned Friday, the defense called Charlene Shannon of Chehalis, Wash., to the stand. Shannon, Welch's ex-girlfriend, testified about his history of legal problems in Washington. She also detailed her attempts to contact Welch after he came to Alaska in August 1998. She reported leaving messages with the Robertses that encouraged Welch to comply with orders from Washington relating to the 1996 unlawful display of a firearm charge.

Joe Harrison, of Kenai, also testified as an expert witness for the defense on Friday. Harrison, who served with the Kenai Police Department from 1985 to 1989, offered testimony regarding the use of firearms and situations where firearms are warranted.

Although motions for judgment of acquittal are usually made between the close of the prosecution's case and the beginning of the defense's case, arguing the motions was postponed until Saturday.

With regard to kidnapping, the court found that the state was not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, among other things, the defendants had unlawfully restrained Welch on the evening of Oct. 1, 1998. The dismissal of the conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge followed.

On the first-degree burglary offense, the court determined that the state was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, among other things, the defendants had knowingly entered or remained unlawfully in a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime -- in this case, kidnapping.

Kenai attorney Joe Ray Skrha said granting a judgment of acquittal rarely happens.

"In this case, you had a judge that looked at the facts," said Skrha. "And the state was not able to make their case."

With the assault and criminal charges still pending, the case isn't over.

"Now on to phase two," said Robinson.

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