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Wasilla woman sentenced in son's arson death

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Suzette Welton was sentenced to 99 years in prison Monday for a Wasilla house fire that killed her 14-year son, Samuel.

Welton, 39, was convicted in May of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree arson in a trial that lasted 7 weeks. The trial and Monday's sentencing took place in Palmer Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge Milton Souter called the case -- based on circumstantial evidence -- the most difficult of his career and said that he was haunted by the possibility of sentencing an innocent woman. But Souter concluded the evidence showed Welton set the fire.

Welton and two of her other children -- Jeremiah, 16, and Bree, 6 -- escaped the Sept. 2000 fire, but Samuel died of smoke inhalation in an upstairs bedroom of the duplex.

Welton's defense attorneys had argued there was insufficient evidence to find Welton guilty.

Prosecutors maintained that events surrounding the fire were more than just a series of coincidences. Prosecutors contended that Welton set the fire in hopes of collecting on $100,000 life insurance policies she took out months before on both boys.

Prosecutors said Welton also drugged drinks for the two boys to sedate them before setting the fire on Sept. 15, 2000. They said hand cranks to the boys' bedroom windows had been removed and smoke detectors disabled.

Defense attorneys contend the boys drugged themselves, then one of them started the fire, either accidentally or deliberately.

Welton, who will be eligible for parole in 33 years, is expected to appeal.



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