October 18, 2008
LARIMER COUNTY - Yolanda Welch stood with her great-grandchild on her shoulders smiling and blowing kisses to her son Friday evening knowing Michael Welch Jr. and Lori Romero found some justice after years of looking for it.
A Larimer County jury deliberated a day and a half and found the Wellington couple not guilty of first-degree assault and not guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault.
Both were found guilty of menacing, a Class 5 felony with a sentencing range of one to three years imprisonment with the possibility for a non-prison charge and eligibility for probation.
Welch Jr. and Romero were on trial for their roles in a 2004 Election Day high-speed chase and standoff with law enforcement. The standoff turned deadly when Michael Welch Sr. was fatally shot by a Larimer County Sheriff's Office sniper.
Had they been convicted of both the assault and conspiracy charges the couple would have faced sentencing of mandatory imprisonment with a minimum of 15 years and maximum of 48 years.
Prior to and since the standoff, the Welch family developed distrust in the Sheriff's Office following a July 2003 execution of a no-knock search warrant at Welch Sr.'s home. The search lead to illegal weapons charges against Welch Jr.
The Welch family has been fighting through courts for the past four and a half years and Yolanda Welch said there's still more fighting to do, but Friday's verdict was a victory for her family.
"It's going to be a little bit before they come home, but at least it won't be 99 years before they come home," Yolanda Welch said with her arms around her grandchild and great-grandchild. "We're OK because we know they didn't want to hurt anyone."
"No mandatory prison time is what we wanted."
Sentencing for the couple was set for Nov. 24, but both still face charges for violation of bond conditions. The couple fled to Canada prior to their original trial date in 2006 seeking refugee status, but returned of their own accord earlier this year.
Many of the details about the 2003 execution of the search warrant and the federal trial that ensued were introduced during the couple's trial by defense lawyers.
"Some of the evidence got far off field from the facts of this case and that makes it difficult on the jury," said prosecutor Mitchell Murray.
Romero's attorney, Derek Samuelson, said the evidence and testimony introduced about the events leading up to Nov. 2, 2004 were an important component of the case.
"The judge wouldn't have let that evidence go back to the jury unless it were proper," Samuelson said. "Events like this don't occur in a vacuum and for the jury to understand what happened they had to understand why it happened."
The federal charges against Welch Jr. related to the 2003 search of Welch Sr.'s home were dropped mid-trial when it was discovered a prosecution witness perjured himself. Despite that outcome, Welch Jr. still faces charges in Larimer County for possession of illegal weapons and cultivation of marijuana.
He is scheduled to appear in District Court for a preliminary hearing on those charges Nov. 17.
Samuelson also said the standoff was a tragic event that got terribly out of hand.
"It was tragic for everyone involved including the police officers," Samuelson said.
Sheriff Jim Alderden said people in his office went through some traumatic experiences the day of the standoff and that the trial resurrected many of those memories.
"Going in people realized the assault charge was going to be problematic," Alderden said. "Reliving the whole experience has brought back the bad memories of what happened. The outcome of that day is not what anyone wanted to happen."
Alderden was not in attendance when the verdict was read Friday, but said he was pleased with the outcome.