Special Reports

Investigator: Richland murder scene preserved (w/ video)

ASOTIN -- Richland detectives and state crime lab technicians were careful to preserve the crime scene once officers searched a Richland home for the killer or other victims besides Josephine and Larry Ulrich, the lead investigator in the murder case said Friday.

Capt. Al Wehner testified that as he arrived at 210 Thayer Drive the morning of March 21, 2002, yellow tape was being placed around the property. Officers were told to take precautions so they didn't contaminate or destroy evidence.

"They should have been and, based on my observations, they were," Wehner said.

Wehner said he didn't see anyone at the scene wearing a Nike Air Trainer similar to the one identified as the shoe that left bloody prints in the home. He added that every time he went into the home he wore booties, if not full protective clothing, and was careful not to step in anything.

Wehner testified in the trial of Kevin Hilton, 50, who is charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of his landlords. His trial is being held in Asotin County because of extensive media publicity in the Tri-Cities since the slayings.

Hilton rented a Mahan Avenue duplex from the Ulriches for about six years and owed them $3,475 in back rent.

Prosecutors allege that he killed them out of desperation because he had about $25,000 in credit card debts and loans, had little in his checking or savings accounts, had no job and was facing eviction.

Hilton has maintained his innocence. He told police he had worked out a deal with the Ulriches to pay $2,000 within six months and to work off the balance of back rent through property maintenance with Larry Ulrich.

Margaret Oxenreider, who had been dating Hilton for a few months when the Ulriches were shot to death, testified again Friday that she loaned him $2,500 in April to help pay down his rent debt.

She then asked Hilton to live with her and he was in the process of selling off some goods at yard sales, moving his things into storage and packing other belongings for her house when he was arrested.

Defense attorney Peter Connick asked Oxenreider if Hilton ever got angry during the move, as Hilton's ex-wife had previously testified that he was a nightmare to deal with when moving.

"No, not at all," Oxenreider said, adding that Hilton took care of all of his packing and only needed help lifting heavy items.

Then when questioned by Deputy Prosecutor Scott Johnson if the move was "a bit unusual" for Hilton, she responded, "Not necessarily."

Also Friday, Connick brought back Detective John Hansens to talk more about Hilton's bank accounts and child support and about several men who only came forward in recent years who separately claimed they bought a gun and shell casings from Hilton in 2002.

Hansens noted that between March 2000 and 2002, a total $37,931.85 in cash and transfers was deposited in Hilton's checking account.

Connick asked if that was a significant amount of money for a 24-month period.

"Is the number substantial? No, it's not substantial in my opinion, sir," Hansens replied.

Hansens also said Hilton had paid a total of $8,792.51 in child support over those two years. He had been paying $50 a month until it was modified in May 2000 to $428.74, and occasionally struggled, but would get caught up after a few months, records showed.

Connick also asked Hansens if prosecution witnesses Kirk Frisby and Joel Tremmel were confused about the sale and the purchase of a .45-caliber handgun.

Frisby told police he sold the gun in 2001 at his home in the 1800 block of Mahan Avenue, and initially could not give a description of the man who bought it other than he was shoulder-height to him. He was shown a photo montage with Hilton's picture but couldn't pick out anyone, Hansens said.

Tremmel -- who Connick said roughly matched that description -- earlier testified he bought a gun from Hilton in April 2002 and remembers going to his home in the 1300 block of Mahan Avenue. He eventually sold that gun to a friend, who then sold it to his brother-in-law in California.

The gun, which police recovered, was traced back to Frisby as the original owner. Hansens said that gun was test-fired, but he did not give the results.

Hansens told jurors that Tremmel had recognized Hilton as the man he bought the gun from after seeing his picture in a newspaper story.

In a follow-up interview with Frisby, he told police he now knew Hilton was the man he sold the gun to nearly seven years ago after seeing a more recent picture of Hilton, also in a newspaper story, Hansens said. Frisby noted that one reason he didn't recognize him earlier was because of changes in Hilton's appearance.

This is Hilton's second trial after his prior conviction was overturned by a state appellate court, which ruled search warrants for his home were too vague and thus items taken should have been suppressed.

The trial started Jan. 14 and has been hampered over the four weeks by snow and other factors that have affected witnesses traveling to this small town in southeastern Washington.

Even though Asotin is in the Northwest's banana belt, Hilton's attorney, Kevin Holt, told the court Friday that the "gods of weather have conspired against us."

The trial recessed early Friday because one witness driving from Spokane had to wait for a tow truck after his car ran off the road. The two main north-south highways also were closed, Holt said.

Testimony will resume Tuesday in an Asotin courtroom. Attorneys anticipate giving closing arguments Wednesday.

* See complete Hilton trial coverage at http://www.tri-cityherald.com/1287/