Charges dropped against Wasilla mother accused of murder

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Murder charges have been dismissed against a 38-year-old Wasilla woman accused of killing one son in a fire and trying to kill another to collect their life insurance.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Milton Souter said Monday that jurors received inadmissible evidence before indicting Suzette Welton last year on charges of murder, attempted murder and arson.

''She never got a fair chance in front of the grand jury,'' Souter said.

Jurors were told about two previous house fires. One destroyed the home of Welton's then-boyfriend just months before the fatal fire last November. There was no evidence that Welton set those fires or that they were intentionally set, Souter said.

The prosecutor also told jurors Alaska State Troopers had accused Welton of faking a sexual assault to get back at her ex-husband. Welton was never charged with making a false report and denies inventing the incident.

The previous fires and sexual assault report portrayed Welton as a liar and a firebug, Souter said.

The judge said if he let the case go to trial, he was sure it would be appealed and a verdict overturned.

Souter said he had no doubt a grand jury would reindict Welton on new murder charges even without the inadmissible evidence.

Assistant District Attorney Dave Berry said prosecutors will seek to reindict Welton within the 30-day deadline set by Souter.

''I disagree with the judge's ruling, but I accept it,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Public defender Greg Heath said the ruling vindicated the defense claims. Souter ordered Welton to continue to be held at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center on $250,000 bail pending a new indictment.

Prosecutors contend Welton tried to kill her sons and collect insurance on their deaths to pay off thousands in rental payments and other debts.

Three months before the fire, Welton purchased $100,000 life insurance policies on both boys, according to court documents. She was in the process of being evicted when the fire broke out at the Wasilla apartment she shared with her children, court documents said.

Samuel, 14, died in the fire, while his 17-year-old brother Jeremiah narrowly escaped by jumping out a window. A 6-year-old sister was uninjured. Prosecutors believe Welton drugged the boys. They note that an autopsy on Samuel found traces of the drug diphenhydramine, a sedative commonly found in the anti-allergy medication Benadryl.

But Welton contends that she took out the life insurance policies as an investment for her sons and that it was her son Samuel who likely set the fire. Her attorneys have filed dozens of pages of transcribed computer chat room conversations that they say show the boy was obsessed with killing himself and setting fires.

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