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April 22, 2018

4/13/2018 7:28:00 AM
Welsh draws probation in 2016 standoff case
Jamie Taylor/river news

Kenneth Welsh, left, listens as his wife Mary Butler, right, pleads for Judge Michael Bloom to place Welsh on probation during Wednesday’s hearing. Also pictured are defense attorney Jon Padgham and DA Michael Schiek.
Jamie Taylor/river news

Kenneth Welsh, left, listens as his wife Mary Butler, right, pleads for Judge Michael Bloom to place Welsh on probation during Wednesday’s hearing. Also pictured are defense attorney Jon Padgham and DA Michael Schiek.

Jamie Taylor

A 62-year-old Tripoli man involved in an armed standoff with several law enforcement agencies nearly two years ago will not return to prison following a sentencing hearing Wednesday morning in Oneida County Circuit Court.

The sentencing comes just days after Kenneth S. Welsh entered into a plea agreement with the state to resolve the charges against him.

Welsh was originally charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, a class B felony, attempted first-degree reckless injury, a class D felony, possession of a firearm while intoxicated and battery (domestic abuse), both misdemeanors. However, he entered a no contest plea April 6 to one count of causing injury by negligent use of a dangerous weapon, a class I felony. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the other charges were dismissed by Branch II Judge Michael Bloom.

Bloom imposed and stayed a sentence of 18 months in prison and two years extended supervision and placed Welsh on probation for three years, following the recommendation of Oneida County district attorney Michael Schiek and defense attorney Jon Padgham.

The case stems from an incident that took place in Tripoli back in April of 2016.

According to court records, Welsh's wife Mary Butler called 9-1-1 at approximately 11:20 a.m. on April 19, 2016 to report she had shot her husband "through the shoulder" and he was now threatening to blow up the house "if anyone showed up at the residence." When law enforcement arrived, she advised there had been a struggle over a gun inside of the residence and that she had shot Mr. Welsh. As she was backing out of the driveway to leave the area, Welsh shot at her, striking the windshield of her vehicle, she added.

Butler told deputies Welsh was distraught after receiving a notice the couple were to lose their house.

Several area counties sent officers and a law enforcement drone was flown over the residence. The drone was able to ascertain that Welsh was on the front porch, allegedly armed with a long gun of some kind, according to police reports of the incident.

According to the reports, officers eventually entered the property and when Welsh would not surrender they fired non-lethal bean bag rounds at him. When the team began to search the residence, the report alleges a strong odor of propane gas was detected. Investigators retreated until the gas was turned off and the building ventilated by fire personnel.

Meanwhile, Welsh's wife was taken to the Oneida County Jail and Welsh was transported to Ministry St. Mary's Hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to his left forearm and the injuries he sustained when he was taken into custody.

Change in story

As the case progressed through the court system, Butler's story changed numerous times, which would have hampered prosecution of Welsh because there were only two people present at the time of the incident, "one was the defendant, the other was the victim."

On Sept. 20, 2016, Welsh accepted a plea agreement that required him to plead no contest to first-degree recklessly endangering safety and operating a firearm while intoxicated. After concluding that his behavior called for some prison time, rather than the probation and jail sentence defense attorney Rodman Streicher and Schiek recommended, Bloom sentenced Welsh to three years in prison on Jan. 6. 2017.

It appeared the case was over but there was one more wrinkle still to come.

At a motion hearing on Nov. 8, 2017, Bloom ruled that Welsh could withdraw his plea because Streicher had forgotten to advise his client about one of the three elements of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.

Before a plea can be accepted by a judge, a defendant must be made aware of all of the elements of the crime to which he is pleading guilty or no contest. During the motion hearing, Schiek admitted that Welsh was advised of only two of the three elements.

As a result, Bloom had no choice but to rule Welsh's pleas were not entered "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily," as the law directs.

Once the motion was granted, the four original charges were reinstated and the case reverted back to the pre-trial stage.

Bloom then set a three-day jury trial to start Feb. 5 and the final pre-trial hearing on Jan. 25, however a request for additional ballistics tests on the bullet recovered from Butler's windshield caused another delay.

That ballistics test showed the bullet that lodged in the windshield was from a .38 caliber handgun, not from a rifle or shotgun as had been alleged throughout the case.

The case was rescheduled for trial April 11, but last week the parties announced they had negotiated a new plea agreement rendering that step unnecessary.

Before pronouncing sentence, Bloom, a former prosecutor, said he understood the problem Schiek would have had if he had to take the case to a jury. Butler's credibility would be attacked during cross-examination and the new ballistics evidence would prompt additional questions.

"To whatever extent, and it was a significant extent, Ms. Butler's testimony was troublesome and subject to challenge and attack at the time of the original resolution of the case, it is more so now," Bloom said, adding that he is still troubled by the fact that a bullet was directed at a car carrying a person.

Butler addressed the court before sentence was pronounced.

"What happened that day was a result of alcohol, and nothing else," she told Bloom. "I love him very much, and I very much want to see him back with me so we can have our lives together. I don't have much of a life left to live."

Butler said Welsh was guilty of making a bad decision in the face of them losing their home. She also claimed to have overreacted at the time of the incident and noted that if she had it to do over again she would have handled it differently.

"I just hope I didn't hurt anybody," she said. "I need my husband to be with me, I've got approximately 6-7 weeks to live, and I want to spend that time with him."

Schiek then acknowledged that Bloom was correct in summing up the potential issues with the state's case.

"The problem that I have always had is the wild card of what Ms. Butler would say under oath, in front of the jury, to my questions," Schiek said. "And I didn't know what those answers would be. I had several different witness statements from early on, the day of, the day after, two days after, and the story changed."

Schiek he was willing to take the evidence he had to a jury "but, as the court explained, we get what we want out of a conviction, even though it for a lesser severe crime," he said. "We get the fact that he has been in custody for just short of two years. I believe 723 days will be the stipulated number, so we do have a punitive sanction. We have continued supervision which will, I assume, require Mr. Welsh to follow the rules of supervision, which in this case should require no alcohol. We've removed the firearms from the home and we have no prior criminal history."

Padgham said his client has already been punished by the system and reminded Bloom that it was Welsh who suffered a gunshot wound two years ago.

Welsh then spoke on his own behalf.

"I'll take responsibility for my actions, your honor," he said. "What you and Mr. Padgham said is accurate. I'd like to thank Mr. Padgham for his work on this and I'd like for everybody to say a little prayer for my wife."

While Butler's exact health condition was not disclosed, the court appeared to accept that she is terminally ill.

"Over the next three years that you are on extended supervision, if it doesn't come into your mind at some point that this was a horribly aggravated situation that, as far as I can tell, nearly led to you murdering your wife," Bloom said, leaning into the microphone to place emphasis on the last three words. "If three years goes by and you haven't concluded that in your own mind that the only reason that Ms. Butler has what little time she has left, and why she wasn't in the ground after 723 days, was possibly just because of luck. If you don't come to realize that, that will be the problem that comes up."

He added that "good luck was with everyone that day" and that extends to the fact that this didn't become a murder case.

Hopefully Welsh will be able to spend the rest of his life out of trouble and "the public won't be the worse" for the plea agreement, he added.

"Hopefully this has come into focus for you," he said. "Otherwise, the good luck that came home to roost for everybody will be meaningless."

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernewsonline.com.

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