A Lodi man who faced a murder charge despite claiming he accidentally shot and killed his roommate last year will serve time in a state prison, after pleading guilty to a lesser charge in a Stockton courtroom.
Richard Welker, 33, appeared in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Tuesday to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, with an enhancement of use of a firearm, as well as being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. On March 26, Welker will receive an 8-year prison sentence, according to the terms of the deal reached by the District Attorney’s office and Welker’s attorney, Victoria Bossi.
“Involuntary manslaughter doesn’t require any malice or bad intent, and this was clearly an accident,” Bossi said. “By the same token, my client was an ex-felon. He shouldn’t have been around guns. So given that, 8 years in a good resolution.”
On May 14, Lodi police responded to Welker’s home on the 700 block of South Central Avenue where his roommate, Arlie Druen, had been shot. Druen died en route to a hospital.
Welker claimed he and Druen were friends and the shooting was an accident, but officers were skeptical after finding multiple shell casings. Welker was arrested on suspicion of several charges, including murder.
But during a preliminary hearing in October, a firearms expert revealed Welker’s Colt semiautomatic pistol had a rare malfunction.
James Hamiel, of the California Department of Justice, found that when the slide of the pistol — used to load a bullet from the magazine into the chamber — was pulled back and released, the firearm could discharge without pulling the trigger. In addition, the firearm could also discharge with contact to the exterior, and when it did, it could fire not just one bullet, but all the bullets in the magazine “very, very rapidly,” Hamiel testified.
He described the firearm as unpredictable, erratic and fully automatic.
“The testimony about the gun would have made it difficult to secure a murder conviction,” Deputy District Attorney Jeff Conley said.
On Tuesday, Bossi described Welker and Druen as “best friends” and said Welker never intended to kill his friend. But by pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Welker is “taking responsibility for the tragedy that happened,” she said.
Bossi said this case exemplifies the dangers — and potentially deadly consequences — of firearms and should serve as a safety lesson to anyone handling weapons.
“People really need to think about what they do when they handle weapons, if they should handle them around groups of people,” she said. “It’s all about young people and guns, and you can end up with a life sentence.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.