Special Reports

Prosecutor says Hilton was at the end of his rope

ASOTIN -- The double-murder trial of Kevin Hilton went to the jury Wednesday, capping a long day highlighted by more testimony from Hilton and closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Jurors were sent home and told to return this morning to start deliberations in the aggravated first-degree murder trial, which started Jan. 14 and had 15 days of testimony.

In his closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Scott Johnson told jurors that Hilton was at the end of his rope and about to lose his house when he became angry and killed his landlords.

"Larry and Josephine (Ulrich) were nothing but good to the defendant," but the couple decided after several broken promises by Hilton that it was time he pay up or move out, Johnson said.

Hilton had "virtually no money in the bank" and no job, and was unable to cope when he resorted to murder, he said.

On the final day of his three-day, pay-or-quit order, Hilton went over to the Ulriches' Richland home under the guise that he had a check with the $3,475 in back rent and penalties, Johnson said. He shot them both, then returned home to spend about 10 minutes on the Internet and get ready for a volleyball game, he said.

"Does murder make sense? No, murder never, ever makes sense," Johnson said. "... We'll never know exactly why the defendant killed Larry and Josephine, but we've got some ideas."

And that's all they've got, argued defense attorney Kevin Holt, who said the prosecution's case consists of innuendo and character assassination but is devoid of evidence.

Holt says prosecutors "never tell you the rest of the story," pointing to testimony that he believes was distorted or downplayed to bolster the state's case.

"They take those type of facts and they ask you to string them together on these innuendo and these rumor, and somehow these things mean that Kevin Hilton committed murder," Holt said.

Hilton, 50, is on trial for the 2002 deaths of Larry and Josephine Ulrich. He had rented a Mahan Avenue duplex from the couple for about six years.

This is Hilton's second trial in the case, after his earlier conviction was overturned by a state appeals court because of invalid search warrants for his home. The Benton County case was moved to Asotin County because of extensive media coverage during and since the first trial.

The allegation that Hilton killed the Ulriches because he owed $3,475 in back rent doesn't hold up because their deaths didn't give him a reprieve, Holt said. The debt still existed, and Hilton paid it off a couple weeks later to the property management company that took over the Ulriches' files.

"(Killing the Ulriches) solves nothing. There is nothing to be gained by that action. It's illogical to assume anything like that," Holt said. "Financial desperation just doesn't hold water."

Holt told jurors that it was absurd for prosecutors to say Hilton had a psychotic response to moving, based on a statement from ex-wife Laura Hilton.

Kevin Hilton gave details of the errands he ran during the 59-minute window that prosecutors allege he killed the Ulriches, Holt said.

DNA on the shell casings and bullets and bloody shoeprints left inside the Ulriches' home exclude Hilton from being at the crime scene, he said.

"Kevin Hilton is innocent," Holt said. "The evidence here has excluded him. The evidence here has exonerated him."

Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor told jurors they must decide if they want to reject the testimony of at least nine witnesses "in order to believe the defendant."

If someone else planted the Post-It note and rental receipt in Larry Ulrich's hand, Bloor said, how did they know that Hilton "is then going to go on a trail of deceit."

He reminded the jury that Hilton said other than himself, only Josephine and Larry Ulrich knew the exact amount he owed in back rent.

Bloor suggested that Larry Ulrich intentionally wrapped the note around the receipt to send "a message to us about who was there, and it's the defendant, ... about who was there killing him and his wife."

Holt countered that it was hard to believe "this flimsy little note" would have remained in Ulrich's hand while his body was being dragged about 12 feet.

Johnson said Hilton has been calculating from the day he killed the Ulriches to now, including his testimony. He said Hilton's testimony was emotionless and he provided answers that he's had six years to rehearse.

Earlier Wednesday, Hilton told jurors that events in his life leading up to the Ulriches' deaths don't necessarily point to him as the killer.

He acknowledged that he was behind on his child support and his rent and had no steady job to pay down his debts, but maintained he had nothing to do with the fatal shootings.

Hilton reiterated that he never got a notice to pay up or move out of his duplex, and said the Ulriches called him the night of their deaths to confirm his proposed payment plan.

Johnson, during his cross-examination, tried to show that Hilton acted on his desperation.

"It was because, wasn't it, everything I just asked you about points to one person as the killer, doesn't it?" Johnson asked.

"I'll disagree with that," Hilton replied.

"And that one person is you?" Johnson followed.

"I disagree with that also," Hilton replied.

Johnson also asked Hilton about a statement he made to former roommate Liza Markoff when the two met a month after the slayings.

Markoff testified earlier in the trial that Hilton told her "anyone is capable of murder, and he did not kill the Ulriches."

Hilton said to the jury, "By that statement I'm acknowledging that anybody is physically capable of doing anything. ... Being capable does not mean willingness to do it."

Bloor, in his closing argument, told jurors to remember that initial statement.

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Hilton," Bloor said, standing in front of the defense table and pointing at Hilton.

"You said everybody is capable of murder. You're capable of murder, Mr. Hilton, and you (jurors) need to hold him accountable."

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