Controversial trial closes with complete victory for defense

Bounty hunters: Not guilty

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

David B. Cameron, Seth I. Oehler and Ronald L. Williams had been waiting a long time.

But it took less than four hours after closing arguments on Thursday for the jury in Kenai's bounty hunter trial to reach a decision.

As the defendants stood with their attorneys and wives at their sides, Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link read the words Cameron, Oehler and Williams had been waiting to hear.

"Not guilty."

On Oct. 1, 1998, Cameron, Oehler and Williams acted on a state of Washington felony warrant and removed Ricky Welch from the Nikiski home of his uncle and aunt, Don and Margaret Roberts. Their juvenile grandson also was living with them at the time.

In November 1998, an indictment from a grand jury charged the "bounty hunters" with three counts each of third-degree assault and one-count each of first-degree burglary, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping as the result of the Oct. 1 incident.

During closing arguments Thursday, Murtagh, who represented Cameron, targeted the credibility of the state's witnesses -- the Robertses, their grandson and Welch. Saying the state had been unable to prove the defendants acted recklessly, Murtagh called the case "outrageous."

Robinson, attorney for Williams, likened the trial to the good, the bad and the ugly.

"These are the good men in this case," he said, pointing to the defendants.

In contrast, he said Ricky Welch proved himself "bad," by his inability to tell the truth.

"Ugly is the entire prosecution," Robinson said.

McComas' began his closing arguments by thanking the defendants, including his client Oehler, for the work they had done together.

He focused on the importance of the jury's role.

"Here and now in Kenai, Alaska, justice makes its last stand," McComas finished.

McConnell took a less emotional approach in his closing argument.

"Focus on three men and their act of going into a home on Oct. 1 and placing three individuals in fear of imminent serious physical injury with a dangerous instrument," said McConnell.

He also reminded jurors of the oath they'd taken.

"Be cold and calculating in your decision," said McConnell. "Non-prejudicial. Passionless."

After the verdict was delivered Thursday, Link reflected on the trial.

"This was a one-of-a-kind case," said Link. "I've never seen one quite like this." The defendants smiled as they walked out of the court room.

"My personal opinion is that these charges should never have gone to trial," said Cameron, after the verdict was read. "Finally, we're vindicated after 18 months, 20 days."

Oehler and his wife, Ann, left the court room arm in arm.

"It's been a long 19 months," said Oehler. "It never should have been in court to begin with."

His wife agreed.

"Justice has been served," she said. "Lots of prayer has been going out for these guys."

"Well, I'm pretty happy," said a smiling Williams. "I never felt like I did anything illegal in the first place."

Williams' wife, Lorraine, voiced serious concerns about Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Dan Donaldson's testimony to the grand jury and during the trial. She placed the blame for it on McConnell.

"The district attorney is the only officer of the court that the jurors' have. He is their legal adviser," she said. "I believe he knowingly allowed perjury by Sgt. Donaldson."

A relaxed defense team commented on the appropriateness of the trial.

"The verdict in this case was based on evidence available to the state on Oct. 1, 1998," said Murtagh. "The prosecution was the result of the Department of Law taking an aggressive public position before they researched the facts and the issue.

"Charges never should have been filed."

Robinson said Thursday was a long time coming.

"The jury did their part today," he said.

As in his closing argument, McComas focused on the jury.

"Thank God for the American jury," said McComas.

McConnell, who said he respects the jury's verdict, reflected on events that led to the charges.

"I think the average person doesn't want individuals who are strangers coming into their residence uninvited," said McConnell. "I think that general philosophy remains."

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