Murder suspect arraigned

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

VIDALIA — Michael Kelly Stevens, 41, pleaded “not guilty” to charges of first-degree murder in Seventh Judicial District Court Wednesday morning.

Public Defender Derrick Carson entered the pleading on behalf of Stevens, who — dressed in green-and-white prison stripes — sat back in a chair at the counsel table and affirmed Judge Leo Boothe’s question if it was his will to enter such a plea with a simple, “Yes.”

During the proceedings, Carson asked if the formal reading of the indictment against Stevens could be waived, but Boothe had the court clerk read the statement — drafted by a 10-person grand jury — aloud.

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An indictment is a statement by a grand jury that essentially says the empanelled jury believed the state has enough evidence to try a person for the crime the jury has charged them with — in this case, first-degree murder.

Following the arraignment, Boothe said the $2 million bond Stevens has been detained on would remain in full force.

Stevens is the suspect in the early October death of Mike Welch, 52, of Vidalia.

Welch was discovered dead in his home at 804 Myrtle St., Oct. 4. His throat had been slit.

Nine days after the murder investigation opened, Stevens was arrested in Channelview, Texas. He was in a park with the victim’s pickup truck after closing hours, and when Harris County, Texas, sheriff’s deputies approached him about it, he reportedly tried to swim away in the nearby Houston Ship Channel.

At the time of the murder, Welch’s family said he lived alone, but Stevens had used Welch’s address when he registered locally as a sex offender, and on Wednesday’s court docket the Myrtle Street address was listed as Stevens’ residence.

Stevens has two prior sex crime convictions.

The suspect’s next scheduled court appearance will be Feb. 10, when he is scheduled for a trial of motions.