Richard Welker sat shackled and expressionless Thursday as a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge ordered him to stand trial for murder in the shooting death of his 33-year-old roommate in May.
The decision followed two days of testimony from a preliminary hearing, during which Welker’s defense attorney argued that the shooting was accidental and the result of a firearm malfunction.
However, Judge Elizabeth Humphreys still ruled that there was reasonable and probable cause for the 33-year-old Welker, of Lodi, to face one count of murder and three counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
A trial date will likely be set when Welker is arraigned in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Oct. 31.
“I was fine with the ruling,” said defense attorney Victoria Bossi, who on Wednesday asked Humphreys to either drop the murder charge or at least replace it with a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Family members of Welker and 33-year-old Arlie Druen, who died in an ambulance en route to a local hospital after sustaining two gunshot wounds inside his home on the 700 block of South Central Avenue on May 14, filled the courtroom seats during each day of the preliminary hearing.
After the ruling, Welker’s brother, Brandon Welker, and father, Rick Welker, said the roommates were best friends, like brothers, who never had animosity toward one another.
“Arlie was like a son to me,” Rick Welker said.
During the three-day hearing, several friends and family members testified that Welker and Druen were close friends, including a witness to the shooting, who repeatedly told police that the gun fired on accident.
San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Conley, however, revealed a possible motive by claiming that Druen was having an affair with Welker’s girlfriend prior to the shooting.
In addition, Druen told the girlfriend that if Welker found out about the affair, he’d kill Druen, according to testimony from a Lodi police detective who interviewed the girlfriend Wednesday morning.
The girlfriend, though, told police that she didn’t believe Welker knew about the affair at the time of the shooting, the detective testified.
Brandon Welker called the relationship between his brother and the girlfriend a “fling” that only lasted a couple of weeks.
One of the most interesting developments came on day one of the hearing when a firearm expert from the California Department of Justice revealed several malfunctions that could cause the firearm, used to kill Druen, to discharge without pulling the trigger.
James Hamiel said the 1930s Colt .380 semiautomatic pistol discharged during more than half his tests by simply pulling back and releasing the slide, used to load a bullet from the magazine into the chamber.
In addition, when the pistol discharged, it could fire all the bullets in the magazine, not just one, “very, very rapidly,” Hamiel testified.
Hamiel said he’s examined hundreds — if not thousands — of firearms, but this was the first time he’s seen a firearm malfunction in this manner.
Bossi used Hamiel’s testimony to explain why officers found four shell casings inside Welker and Druen’s home, as well as two gunshot wounds on Druen.
Conley argued that despite the malfunctions, the pistol fired as Welker intended it to.
“It did its job,” he said during the hearing on Wednesday. “It killed Arlie Druen.”
During the hearing, Bossi used witnesses to paint a joyous scene inside the home minutes before the shooting.
One witness testified that Welker was showing off his guns when the pistol discharged, killing Druen.
Along with the charges, Welker will face an enhancement of personal use of a firearm during the commission of a felony and a prohibited person possessing ammunition. Humphreys did dismiss the enhancement of intentional and personal discharge of a firearm.
On Wednesday, Conley admitted the case wasn’t a “slam dunk.” But following Thursday’s ruling he said the facts supported his decision to pursue a murder charge, instead of a lesser charge.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.