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County bracing for cost of case

Court price in Lehi shooting death could hit $500,000

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PROVO — Utah County is bracing to spend up to $500,000 to both prosecute and defend the man accused of fatally shooting a Lehi police officer on Aug. 3.

Arturo Javier Scott Welch, 23, of West Valley City, is charged with capital murder and possession of an illegal substance in connection with the death of Joe D. Adams. Adams died after he was shot in the shoulder as he tried to arrest Welch during a traffic stop.

Welch was critically injured as well in that altercation and was treated in Salt Lake City for a gunshot wound to the abdomen and finger.

Led into court Tuesday in a wheelchair and shackles, a noticeably pale Welch made his first court appearance on the capital murder and possession of cocaine charges.

Welch is being provided county-paid legal defense through public defenders Tom Means and Richard Gale. Means asked to postpone setting a preliminary hearing until the state medical examiner's report on Adams is complete. A scheduling conference is set for Sept. 12.

After spending several weeks in hospital care, Welch is now being held in the infirmary at the Utah County Jail.

Means complained that the infirmary's setup makes it difficult for the attorneys to hold confidential meetings with Welch.

Judge Ray Harding Jr. ordered the jail to provide a private area for such meetings.

The first bill for Welch's care, for $37,000, crossed the desk of Lehi Mayor Ken Greenwood last month, but Greenwood asked that it be forwarded to Utah County.

"It'll be a cold day before Lehi city pays any of Scott Welch's medical bills," Greenwood said Tuesday when advised that Utah County may ask Lehi to bear some of the costs.

"We won't be paying it."

Commissioner Gary Herbert said while the county also isn't happy about paying the bills for someone who may have killed a policeman, it is government's role and responsibility to prosecute crime and protect — as much as possible — the rights of the accused.

In court Tuesday, it was the first time that Orem police officer Josh Adams laid eyes on the man accused of gunning down his brother.

"I don't know how anyone could do this to my brother," Adams said after breaking down in tears as the murder charge was read in court.

"I feel that (Joe Adams) is still with us in spirit, and that's what keeps us going," Josh Adams said, adding he had no opinion on the possibility of a death penalty — only that it is up to the court to decide.

"It is appalling, but crime does cost us money," Herbert said. "In this case, unfortunately, we're funding both sides because this guy's indigent."

Since Welch is accused of capital murder, which carries the possibility of death if convicted, the county must be especially careful in its prosecution, Herbert said. "We have no choice but to make sure we've left no stone unturned."

It also means the costs escalate. That's the lesson the county learned from an expensive experience with the Dan and Ron Lafferty murder trials of the past decade.

"We've got to anticipate the worst. This will probably cost a minimum $250,000 and probably as much as $500,000," Herbert said. That money will have to be pulled from the county's general fund budget, using some surplus from 2001 and additional money from the 2002 budget.

Utah County may not be legitimately responsible for Welch's medical bills, but Herbert doesn't believe either of the hospitals that have provided treatment should be left unpaid.

"We'll do what's fair and equitable, whether that means Lehi picks up part of it, I don't know," Herbert said. "It's unfortunate that justice costs a lot of money. Taxpayers are going to have to pay for it one way or another."

E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com