State’s high court denies review of 2002 Richland murders

The state’s highest court has turned down a request to take another look at the case of a Richland man convicted of killing his landlords in 2002.

Kevin L. Hilton, 58, sought relief with a personal restraint petition, since he exhausted his traditional appeal.

He had hoped the state Supreme Court would review his new claims and ultimately grant a third trial, releasing him from prison in the interim.

But in denying Hilton’s motion for discretionary review, five Supreme Court justices essentially said a 2015 state Court of Appeals decision dismissing the petition should stand.

Hilton has remained adamant that he’s innocent in the deaths of Josephine and Larry Ulrich. But he’s running out of options in his push to again be a free man. He is serving a life sentence at Airway Heights Corrections Center, west of Spokane.

Longtime appellate lawyer Lenell Nussbaum of Seattle can choose to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

“There’s always a possibility he might do something else, but I think legally you are only supposed to have two bites at the apple,” said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor.

Bloor handled Hilton’s second Benton County Superior Court trial on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

“It’s time to end this,” Bloor said. “I’m glad that the (Ulrich) family is going to have an additional sense of closure.”

Jo, 67, and Larry, 72, were killed March 20, 2002, inside their home.

Hilton was first convicted by a Benton County jury in 2003.

That conviction was thrown out when the Court of Appeals ruled the initial search warrants for Hilton’s home were invalid, which meant all evidence taken from the home was illegally seized and couldn’t be used by prosecutors. That included shell casings which were fired by the same gun as those found in the Ulriches’ home.

The second trial was moved 140 miles east of the Tri-Cities, to Asotin, because of extensive media coverage over the years about the deaths.

He was convicted again in February 2008.

Hilton had rented a Mahan Avenue duplex from the Ulriches for about six years. He owed $3,475 in back rent and penalties and was unemployed at the time.

Prosecutors said at trial that Hilton became desperate when the couple served him with a three-day notice to pay up or move out.

A receipt found in Larry Ulrich’s hand was made out to Hilton for $3,475. Jurors cited that as key evidence.

Hilton did not testify in his first trial, but took the stand in the second trial in Asotin to say he never received the eviction notice and couldn’t explain the receipt. He testified that he’d reached an agreement with the Ulriches to pay $2,000 plus interest within six months and work off the balance.

After state and federal Supreme Court justices denied Hilton’s petitions to review the direct appeal, he filed the personal restraint petition. claiming his trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to follow up on a report that may have verified his alibi.

A personal restraint petition is designed to point out new information that was not available to the defense or a new law that has come into effect since the appeal was finalized.

Kevin Holt of Kennewick and Peter Connick of Seattle were the defense attorneys in both trials.

Holt said he received the report relating to usage of the Ulriches’ home computer, but didn’t understand the significance of the detective’s conclusion. Connick didn’t recall seeing the report.

Hilton argued in the petition that if his attorneys had pursued that evidence, they might have been able to show jurors that he wasn’t responsible for the deaths.

The defense tried to claim that the victims’ daughter, Lisa Ulrich, had a role in killing her parents, but the lawyers were prevented from introducing third-party perpetrator evidence.

Hilton said he was prejudiced by his lawyers’ failures.

The Court of Appeals, in dismissing the petition last year, said what Hilton viewed as potential alibi evidence “does not clinch his defense.”

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer