Jurors hear closing arguments in Welton murder trail

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

PALMER (AP) -- In closing arguments Tuesday in the murder trial of Suzette Welton, the defense urged jurors to avoid another tragedy and find the defendant innocent of setting a house fire that killed her 14-year-old son.

''The state has shown a collection of circumstantial facts,'' said Greg Heath, the public defender representing the 38-year-old defendant. ''What happened that night we don't know, and neither do you. Please do not commit another tragedy. The evidence is not there.''

Heath described Welton as a mother in shock, very emotional, ''who was not allowed to properly grieve her losses'' after the September 2000 fire in a Wasilla duplex that killed her younger son Samuel.

Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak painted a different picture, describing Welton as a woman in financial trouble, ''a fly by night person ...who was not thinking straight.''

Welton is charged with first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree arson and attempted first-degree murder.

The Palmer Superior Court jury was to begin deliberations Wednesday.

Welton and two of her other children -- Jeremiah, 16, and Bree, 6 -- escaped the fire, but Samuel died of smoke inhalation in an upstairs bedroom. ''He was trapped in an oven,'' Kalytiak said.

In nearly seven hours of closing arguments, the prosecution maintained that events surrounding the fire were more than just a strange series of coincidences.

''This was a great plan,'' Kalytiak said. ''It was pure evil. What went wrong with the plan? The defendant never expected Jeremiah to jump out of the window.''

The prosecution maintained that this was arson, rather than an accidental fire, and that the defendant, a former daycare worker, set the blaze. Expert witnesses including John Glenn, a private investigator who represents State Farm Insurance Companies, agreed that this was not an accidental fire, Kalytiak said.

''You think State Farm wants to pay this claim?'' asked Heath, arguing that Glenn's work was flawed because he chose an incompetent lab to test floor and carpet samples, and never interviewed firefighters.

The prosecution reiterated its arguments that Welton had little money at the time of the blaze, was facing eviction from the rented duplex, and had recently taken out life insurance policies on her sons. Kalytiak reminded jurors that three days before the blaze someone used Welton's Carrs' card to purchase sleeping pills and a gas can.

Prosecutors have argued that Welton put sleeping pills in the boys' drinks, then poured gasoline around their bedrooms and ignited the fuel.

The defense countered that Welton had a steady income, including $1,100 a month in child support, that it was possible that one of the boys had started the fire and that their mother tried frantically to put out the fire.

Heath said there is no proof that Welton drugged her sons' drinks with sleeping pills the night of the fire.

''We are not here to attack Jeremiah, but the truth is he lied and he has no credibility and he is the key witness in this case,'' Heath said.

Nobody knows who started the fire, how it started or when it started, he told jurors. ''Do not speculate.''

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