Valdosta Daily Times

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October 18, 2012

Ray City man gets life for murdering landlord

VALDOSTA — Justice has been served for the 85-year-old victim of a deadly home invasion in Ray City last year as Dennis Gene Welch Jr., now 34, received a sentence of life plus 60 years Wednesday, according to District Attorney Cathy Helms of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit.

According to Helms, Welch was convicted on charges of malice murder, burglary, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, theft by taking, identity fraud, financial card theft and possession of a firearm by convicted felon. There were 11 charges in total, stated Helms, but some of the lesser offenses were merged into correlating charges of greater magnitude.

Jamie Wright, 85, was shot and killed in her Ray City residence on Sept. 24, 2011 at around 3 p.m., according to a previous report by The Times. Welch was in the middle of burglarizing Wright's Jones Street residence in Ray City when Wright, his landlord at the time, surprised him with her return home, said Helms.

Two days later, family members reportedly discovered Wright's lifeless body inside her ransacked home.

“At her funeral, she was described as the Mother Teresa of Berrien County,” said Helms.

Two days after the discovery of Wright's body, Welch and then-girlfriend, Michelle Lynn Ziegenfuss, 31, were tracked to the Ironwood apartment complex in Gainesville, Fla. The victim’s 2002 Dodge Dakota was reportedly located at the complex when GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigations) agents and Alachua County Florida Sheriff's deputies apprehended Welsh and

Ziegenfuss.

Ziegenfuss signed a plea agreement earlier this year for her involvement in the incident, said Helms.

“She pled out a while back to the theft counts, because she didn't know about the murder,” said Helms. “But she knowingly got into a stolen car with Welch, and they high-tailed it to Florida.”

The jury reportedly spent roughly an hour deliberating each of the 11 counts against Welch yesterday. Judge Howard McClain heard the case and Helms prosecuted it.

“I really want to comment on the two GBI agents who worked the case, and the Ray City Police officers who assisted,” said Helms. “Especially want to recognize the efforts of the two GBI agents. They worked about 48 straight hours, without rest, until they had Welch in custody.”

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