Jury answers DA’s plea, ‘for Welch’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 14, 2010

VIDALIA — Holding up a grisly crime scene photo of Mike Welch’s murdered body, Seventh Judicial District District Attorney Brad Burget asked the jury to come back with a single verdict in Michael Kelly Stevens’ trial — guilty of first-degree murder.

Gesturing at the photo of Welch, Burget said, “Don’t do it for me; do it for him.”

And after 55 minutes of deliberations, that’s what they did. The jury found Stevens guilty of the charges against him, meaning he now faces a mandatory life sentence without possibility of probation or parole.

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Friday’s court proceedings featured one defense witness and closing arguments from the attorneys. While the defense only called one witness Friday, Defense Attorney Madaline Gibbs said many of the witnesses called by the prosecution had also been subpoenaed by the defense.

Gibbs told jurors that even though they had not seen Stevens take the stand, they had a chance to hear his testimony when his video confession was played.

And she asked them to consider his demeanor in the video.

“You witnessed his cloudy memories, his hesitant speech and his despair, bitter despair,” she said.

The two were living in a domestic situation where Stevens helped Welch around the house, and the night of the murder Stevens had been drinking and had taken drugs, Gibbs said.

The two got into an argument when Welch told Stevens he could not borrow his truck, and Stevens told investigators that the murder happened when Welch — who was in poor health — tried to stop him with a steak knife.

“Mr. Stevens snapped, he flew into a rage fueled by drugs and alcohol,” she said.

Later, Stevens told investigators he couldn’t remember everything about that night, and he later fled to Texas. Gibbs characterized those actions as “inexcusable,” but she said they were characteristic of someone whose mind was clouded.

“He went to see his son in Texas,” she said. “None of that makes exact sense to us — if you are trying to flee, you go to Houston where you have a lot of family and stay there? He was not exactly functioning clearly.”

The killing was a “heated blood,” incident, beginning with self-defense when Welch tried to stop him with the knife but escalating to its tragic end, Gibbs said.

She also asked the jury to consider that no DNA testing was done at the blood scene, and that testimony about Welch’s physical state varied from witness to witness, with some saying he was nearly too invalid to stand even with a walker and other saying he was able to walk.

The defense was not asking the jury to think Stevens was a wonderful man, Gibbs said.

“He has stated already he needs punishment,” she said. “We are asking you to weigh this fairly.”

During the state’s closing arguments, Burget said Stevens was guilty of first-degree murder because he killed Welch while trying to rob him of his truck.

Alluding to Stevens’ statement, Burget said Stevens pushed Welch down onto the couch, grabbed the knife and proceeded to cut his throat.

“Pushing him down was simple robbery, taking the knife and stabbing him was armed robbery and second-degree robbery,” Burget said.

The district attorney said the self-defense argument is immaterial because Stevens was the initial aggressor in the situation by trying to take Welch’s keys.

“If you believe Mr. Welch even picked up the knife, it was because he had the audacity to try to stop a robbery in his house,” Burget said.

“And what does he get? That knife in his throat, all the way around to the back of his head.”

Alluding to Welch’s poor health, Burget said, “Do you honestly believe this murderer felt reasonably his life was in danger from Mr. Welch? He posed a danger to no one.”

Further attacking the self-defense argument, Burget played a clip from Stevens’ video statement, taken at the time of his arrest, in which he told investigators he thought he deserved lethal injection.

“To me, that is fair,” Stevens said in the video.

“If it wasn’t self-defense or something like that, that is what (someone who commits this crime) should get.”

Burget also said that blood tests would have been nice for trial but unnecessary.

The DNA tests were canceled because the crime lab was backlogged and the trial date arrived before the tests could be completed.

“Whether (Stevens) was cut on the top of the head is irrelevant because the aggressor cannot claim self-defense,” Burget said.

Using common sense, it is obvious to whom the blood belonged, Burget said.

“I am not going to wait years for a piece of evidence to prove something we already know.”

Alluding to a statement Gibbs made about Stevens feeling tortured for what had happened, Burget said, “‘I am feeling tortured?’” He is the one who tortured Mr. Welch, a disabled man who could not defend himself.”

When the jury returned with its verdict, both sides waived an open polling of jurors.

Stevens will be sentenced Aug. 25.