Bounty hunter takes stand

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Tuesday started off with a game of catch-up.

Jurors in Kenai's bounty hunter trial were read a summation by Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link apprising them of events that had taken place on Saturday and Monday.

David B. Cameron, Ronald L. Williams and Seth I. Oehler originally were charged in November 1998, each with three counts of third-degree assault and one count each of first-degree burglary, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

The incident resulting in the charges occurred Oct. 1, 1998, when the defendants allegedly removed Ricky Welch at gunpoint from the home of his uncle and aunt, Don and Margaret Roberts of Nikiski. Also living in the home at the time was the Robertses' juvenile grandson.

On Saturday, Link granted a judgment of acquittal to all three defendants, finding them not guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Link also entered a judgment of acquittal on the first-degree burglary charge.

Another judgment of acquittal on Monday dismissed charges again Oehler and Williams on the third-degree assault against Margaret Roberts. However, they remain charged as accomplices in the assault.

"You must not assume that the defendants are guilty on the remaining counts or that it is more likely that the defendants are guilty of the remaining counts or that I think or believe that either of these propositions is true," Link instructed.

Link directed the jurors, when they evaluate the evidence during their deliberations on the remaining counts of the indictment, to proceed as if the defendants never had been charged with the crimes for which they have now been found not guilty.

Following the instruction, Steven Arturo was called as a defense witness. Arturo testified to having been offered $1,000 by Northwest Surety of Olympia, Wash., in September 1998, to act on a warrant for the arrest of Ricky Welch. Northwest Surety posted a $10,000 bond for Welch relative to a 1996 unlawful display of a firearm charge heard by the Superior Court of Washington for Lewis County.

When Welch failed to appear in court, a warrant serviceable in Washington, Oregon and Idaho was issued for his arrest.

In September 1998, Welch was located living with the Robertses in Nikiski. Arturo contacted Renee Cameron, wife of the defendant, who owned a franchise in Kenai of Arturo's Anchorage and Mat-Su Process Service, and asked if her husband would be interested in serving the warrant.

Tuesday, Cameron followed Arturo to the witness stand at the request of his attorney, John Murtagh. Cameron provided a detailed account of the events leading up to the night in question. He testified not having agreed to act for Northwest Surety until he felt confident all necessary paperwork from the state of Washington allowed him to arrest Welch. Included in the information submitted as evidence was a revised warrant specifically including Alaska.

Cameron reported having asked the assistance of Alaska State Troopers on several occasions prior to Oct. 1, but was told they would not become involved.

After Cameron, Oehler and Williams spent 30 minutes outside the Robertses' home that evening, they finally verified Welch's presence inside by looking in the windows.

Cameron knocked on the door and was directed to use a side door.

According to Cameron, when he entered the home he said, "Ricky Welch, you're under arrest. You're a fugitive from justice."

"More than cooperative," was how Cameron described Welch's response.

Cameron went on to describe events of the evening that finally culminated with contact with troopers and the Kenai Police Depart-ment in the parking lot of the Kenai Kmart.

When asked by District Attorney Dwayne McConnell during cross-examination if he had contacted troopers after receiving a warrant that included Alaska, Cameron reported he had not.

McConnell questioned Cameron repeatedly about whether or not he would have been afraid if someone had entered his home with a gun.

"If you were in your house and someone came into your house with a gun, would you be placed in fear?" asked McConnell.

"Sure," Cameron said.

"Are you telling the jury that if you were in your home and someone you didn't know came in holding the gun (like you were holding the gun), you would be in fear?" asked McConnell. Gun positions were described last week by the defense's expert witness Joe Harrison, who has 26 years of law enforcement experience. He served with the Kenai Police Department from 1985 to 1998.

"I would be in fear," Cameron said.

Roy L. Smith and Robert Parker, friends and former co-workers of Cameron's, testified to Cameron's good character.

Merrill McGahan, an acquaintance of Don Roberts, told the court Roberts had mentioned to him Welch had some trouble and was living with the Robertses for a while.

The trial will reconvene this morning at 8:15.

According to Jim McComas, attorney for Oehler, the defense plans to complete its case by noon.

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