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Tuesday, February 13, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mystery Defendant Adds To Guesswork In Trial

Who is he, this bulky man seated at the defense table in an attempted-murder trial?

Jurors have been told his name is Ricky Wetta, 41, of Renton, and that he is accused of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of a former friend, Emmett Thompson Jr. of Bellevue.

But prosecutors and police say the man is not Ricky Wetta, as he claims. Authorities haven't the foggiest notion who he is - but they say they are satisfied he is not Wetta.

Someone named Ricky A. Wetta ``exists in the south United States, but he is not the defendant,'' Deputy Prosecutor Michael Hogan said in court documents.

The mystery man is listed on court documents as ``John Doe, A.K.A. Ricky Wetta.'' Hogan believes the defendant is a former wrestler. Police know he wrestled under the name ``Mr. X'' and operated a wrestling school in the Bahamas.

But Superior Court Judge Lloyd Bever, who is hearing the case, has ruled that the question of Wetta's true name cannot be presented to jurors.

Jurors are hearing more about an arson in Wenatchee than they are about Wetta, the alleged gunman in the shooting.

Hogan said the motive for the shooting is linked to an attempted insurance-fraud scheme that went sour. The scheme involved an old hotel, the Columbian, in Wenatchee.

Hogan said in opening statements yesterday that Wetta purchased the hotel in 1988 for $135,000. Shortly after obtaining a $4.2 million insurance policy, Hogan said, Wetta and Thompson and a third person agreed to burn the hotel and split the proceeds.

On Oct. 6, 1988, Thompson and the third figure, Barry Henthorn, drove to the hotel, where Thompson lit a fire, according to court papers.

After the FBI began to investigate the fire, Wetta asked the other men for false affidavits to assist in his defense, Hogan maintains. Henthorn agreed, but Thompson refused, he said.

According to the prosecutor, Thompson underwent a religious conversion. He was becoming ``a weak link in the conspiracy of silence surrounding the arson,'' Hogan said.

Wetta subsequently was indicted by a federal grand jury for arson and faces trial

in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

On Sept. 5, 1989, Wetta and Thompson went target shooting on Tiger Mountain to try out a rifle Wetta had, according to court papers. As they were leaving the wooded area, Thompson was shot, suffering four minor wounds. Despite the wounds, he escaped.

Defense attorney Annie Engelhard said in her opening statements that the shooting was self-defense.

``He used the force he thought necessary to keep from being injured by Emmett Thompson,'' Engelhard said.

Wetta alleges that Thompson pulled a knife on him, grabbed him, ``almost in a headlock'' requiring Wetta to shoot in self-defense, Engelhard said. Three bullets were removed from Thompson's neck at Harborview Medical Center.

She said Wetta was not involved in the arson, that he was known as an investor. It is foolish to think Wetta would be involved in an arson so close to the purchase of the insurance - an act that would automatically point the finger at him, Engelhard argued.

Thompson has admitted setting the fire and has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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