SOLDOTNA - Three bounty hunters accused of assault and trespassing were acquitted Thursday afternoon by a Superior Court jury that spent just two hours deliberating after a trial that lasted nearly two weeks.
The jury decided that Ronald L. Williams, 54, Seth Oehler, 28, and David Cameron, 45, were innocent of charges of assault, accomplice to assault, and criminal trespass. Judge Jonathan Link had already dismissed several other charges against the men, including kidnapping.
Prosecutors ``tried to make it look like bounty hunting in other states, and it wasn't anything like that,'' said defense lawyer Jim McComas after the verdict. ``It was a rotten, rotten case.''
In their testimony just before the closing arguments, defendants noted their law enforcement experience. Williams estimated he had made more than 1,000 arrests, 500 of them with a drawn weapon.
He said his career included 16 years with the Pendleton, Ore., police department, four years with Wackenhut Security on Alaska's North Slope, 22 months with the Kenai Police Department and 11 years with Alaska's Department of Corrections.
Both Williams and Cameron were working at Wildwood Correctional Center when the incident occurred.
``They basically lost their jobs over this,'' according to McComas, who said he took the case as a court-appointed lawyer ``because I thought it was wrong.''
Asked whether a civil suit might be in the offing, McComas said ``right now, all they're doing is celebrating.'' Up until a week ago, when the judge threw out a kidnapping charge, they were facing life in prison, he said.
It's been a long wait for exoneration since the trio entered a Nikiski home on Oct. 1, 1998, and removed fugitive Ricky Welch. Present at the time were Welch's aunt and uncle, Margaret and Don Roberts, and their young grandson.
Williams told the jury the original plan called for the three men to wait outside the Robertses' home, hoping Welch would come out to smoke a cigarette. The plan changed after Welch was positively identified inside the home.
According to Williams, he saw Cameron knock at the front door. In response, a young male, later identified as the Robertses' grandson, came out a side door and waved Cameron over. Williams, who was 50 to 60 feet away, could hear them talking.
``Then I saw Cameron disappear through the door,'' Williams said. ``I called Seth (Oehler) on the radio and said Cameron was in the house and we needed to go support him.
``I walked to the side door, which was ajar,'' said Williams. ``And I went in.''
District Attorney Dwayne McConnell asked Oehler to put himself in the family's shoes.
``If three men came into your home with weapons and you didn't know them, might that place you in fear for you and your family's lives?''
``If they were there to arrest someone else, probably not,'' said Oehler.
``That assumes you would know what they were there for,'' said McConnell.
``Yeah, I guess that's right,'' Oehler said.