Special Reports

Hilton's ex-wife says she found weapons cache

ASOTIN -- Laura Hilton said she had no idea her husband had a cache of "things related to guns and bullets and reloading" until she left him a decade ago.

Hilton, testifying by videotape Wednesday in the double-murder trial of ex-husband Kevin Hilton, said she made an inventory list of everything he owned in the process of her divorce from him after 16 years of marriage.

That's when she discovered in the couple's 1310 Mahan Avenue basement about 30 or 40 pounds of gunpowder, partly used containers, "and just bullets and bullets and bullets and guns."

The comments of Laura Hilton, who divorced Kevin Hilton in October 1998, were videotaped Jan. 28 when Deputy Prosecutor Scott Johnson and defense attorney Peter Connick flew to Tacoma to meet with her.

Her videotaped testimony came as prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday morning after 11 days of testimony.

Kevin Hilton, 50, is on trial for two counts of aggravated first-degree murder involving Josephine and Larry Ulrich. The retrial was moved to Asotin County because of extensive media coverage since the Ulriches were found fatally shot March 21, 2002, inside their Richland home.

The Ulriches had owned seven rental properties and Hilton had been a tenant for about six years. He owed the couple $3,475 in back rent and was facing eviction if he couldn't come up with the money in three days, according to the Ulriches' rental records.

Defense attorneys called seven witnesses to the stand Wednesday, attempting to discredit analysis by the Washington State Patrol crime lab and impeach prior testimony from Ulrich family members. One witness, a retired FBI agent, disputed earlier testimony about bloody shoe prints and said Hilton's feet are too big to fit into the matching sneakers.

But first, Connick and co-counsel Kevin Holt asked the court to dismiss the charges.

"This case comes really down to a character assassination," Connick said. "I think I'm dignifying it when I say that it's circumstantial evidence at best, which is basically Mr. Hilton, depending on how you spin it, had child support arrearages and rent arrearages ... and therefore he must have gone and shot them, despite undisputedly the work credits he had for rent."

Judge William Acey denied the motion, pointing to evidence -- like the original rent receipt found in Larry Ulrich's hand and Hilton's comment of "How the hell did that get there? Christ." -- that he believes may support the prosecution's theory. He said he would instruct jurors before deliberations about the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence.

Laura Hilton was asked about a conversation she had 10 years ago with Kevin regarding a "very large sexual harassment case" involving eight employees at her workplace.

Kevin made a comment, "it was like he was trying to be helpful, and he said 'Well, I know someone that does away with people,' " Laura Hilton testified. "And I was like, 'Oh my God, what kind of conversations are you having with friends to have them share that information.' "

Laura Hilton claimed Kevin always carried with him a fanny pack with a .45-caliber pistol and participated in amateur competitive shooting at the Rattlesnake Mountain Shooting Facility.

"Yeah, it was his fun. That's when I saw him happy," she testified.

Laura Hilton is now a psyche nurse living in Tacoma. She is raising their 13-year-old son. They also have a 20-year-old daughter.

The couple lived in six different locations during their marriage -- three of those in Richland -- and each time they moved, Kevin Hilton did not cope well with the process or help pack household items unless they were heavy, she said.

"It was a nightmare. ... He would shut down, he wouldn't help, he would be angry," she testified.

Margaret Oxenreider, who was dating Kevin Hilton at the time of the Ulriches' deaths, told jurors that a month later he was not angry about moving out of the Mahan Avenue duplex and into her house. Oxenreider said she initially wasn't aware of Hilton's bleak finances, but offered assistance once she learned about the owed back rent and loaned him $2,500 to help pay it off.

William Bodziak, a forensic consultant hired by the defense to analyze the bloody prints left in the Ulriches' foyer, said even though the tread was well-worn it was clear the Nike sneaker was a size 9 1/2, maybe a size 10.

Hilton's footprint, he said, measured between sizes 12 1/2 and 13 1/2, "substantially much larger."

Bodziak was a special agent with the FBI for 29 years and is considered a leading expert in footwear impressions.

Trying to match up a transparency of Hilton's inked footprint with a composite sketch of one of the bloody prints -- as done by forensic scientist William Schneck -- isn't "going to really give you an accurate reflection because you're comparing apples to oranges. ... You wouldn't expect them to be the same," Bodziak said.

The inked impression only shows the area of the foot that makes contact with the ground, not the actual size of the foot, he said.

Bodziak admitted that in Hilton's first trial he said the bloody prints best fit a size 8 to 9 shoe, but added that estimate has since changed after getting a shoe similar to the one that left the prints.

He said a suspect could try to cram his or her foot into a smaller-than-normal shoe to mislead police, but it doesn't make sense to him.

Also Wednesday, Acey said that when he admonished Johnson the day before, there was no finding that the prosecutor perpetrated fraud on the court as the defense had claimed.

Later in the day, Connick was "admonished to stay out of that territory, please," when asking former Detective Sandy McCamish about specific calls Lisa Ulrich said she made after finding her parents dead.

Defense attorneys were ordered by Acey before the trial to avoid third-party perpetrator claims and references to who Ulrich called to the scene.

-- See complete Hilton trial coverage at tricityherald.com/1287