Trans Suspect Pleads Not Guilty of 'Mrs. Doubtfire' House Arson

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Saturday January 17, 2015
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A transgender woman accused of setting fire to the Pacific Heights house known for its role in the 1993 hit film "Mrs. Doubtfire" has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, arson, and other charges.

Tyqwon Eugene Welch, 25, of Los Angeles, whom officials have indicated is a transgender woman, appeared Friday, January 9 in San Francisco Superior Court. Through her attorney, Welch pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, two counts of burning an inhabited dwelling, possession of an incendiary device, criminal threats, and residential burglary. She's also been charged with misdemeanor counts of trespassing and making annoying phone calls.

Media reports have identified the victim as Dr. Doug Ousterhout, 80, who specializes in facial feminization surgery and works with transgender clients.

According to police, at about 8:15 p.m. Monday, January 5, Ousterhout was cooking in the house at 2640 Steiner Street when "he smelled gasoline and saw that the front door mat was on fire." He put out the flames and called police.

Police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said last week that Welch was taken into custody just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, January 7 in San Jose after police arson investigators developed information on her whereabouts.

Welch, who was in handcuffs Friday, looked annoyed as Elizabeth Hilton, managing attorney in the misdemeanor unit at the public defender's office, escorted her into Judge Ethan Schulman's courtroom. Several TV camera people were there to record the scene, but Schulman prohibited them from filming Welch, at Hilton's request.

After the hearing, Hilton told reporters she couldn't comment on the facts of the case, including what relationship Welch had to Ousterhout, but she said the case is based on circumstantial evidence.

"I ask people not to rush to judgment," she said. "... Sometimes things are not exactly as they appear."

Asked whether Welch identifies as transgender, Hilton said, "She has asked me to refer to her as 'Miss.'"

In response to a question about whether Welch, who's in custody on $1 million bail, is being held in the men's side of the jail, Hilton said that concerns her, too, and she wants to make sure Welch is "comfortable."

Van Ly, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's chief of staff, later said that Welch is being housed in the jail's seventh floor, which has "a male housing unit and a gender non-conforming housing unit."

Ly said she couldn't disclose the specific section that Welch is in, but she said "generally," they assess each inmate to determine "the safest housing for that person. ... Our main goals are to house people safely and securely."

Asked by a television reporter Friday about where Welch is in the transitioning "process," Hilton said, "Isn't that a bit personal?" and asked him, "Are you a man or a woman?"

In response to Hilton saying the evidence against Welch is circumstantial, Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said there are "many forms of evidence," including "direct evidence and circumstantial evidence." In a follow-up call, he said, "A judge and a jury determine the weight of the evidence."

Bastian explained the attempted homicide charge by saying, "Anytime you have an arson, it's very concerning, especially when it involves someone's residence."

He couldn't say what an apparent confrontation before the fire had been about and he couldn't discuss the "annoying" calls or other details.

"It's too early to be able to talk about all those things," Bastian said. He also said he was "unable to comment" about what the relationship between Ousterhout and Welch was.

The San Francisco Chronicle said that during a jailhouse meeting with a reporter Thursday, January 8, Welch "declined to be interviewed" but said "these charges have nothing to do with me."

Welch is next set to appear in court January 20 for a prehearing conference.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Clark was the prosecutor in court Friday, when Schulman ordered Welch to stay at least 150 yards away from Ousterhout, his son, and the house.

Ousterhout's Home

Ousterhout hasn't responded to a message left with his Castro neighborhood office, and no one came to the door when a reporter rang the doorbell at his home Friday. Burn marks still scarred the bottom of the front door. The garage door, which has been shown with burns in a Chronicle photo, appeared to have recently been repainted. His son hasn't responded to an interview request through Facebook.

Tributes left to Mrs. Doubtfire actor Robin Williams after he committed suicide in August could still be seen on the house's front steps and sidewalk.

Asked about the case being "tricky" since it involves the internationally known home, Hilton said, "I love that movie. It's sad the house got damaged."

There didn't appear to be any security cameras outside the front of Ousterhout's home Friday. Two of his neighbors said they hadn't seen the incident allegedly involving Welch. They declined to give their names.

Los Angeles Charges

Los Angeles County Superior Court records show that Welch has some criminal history in that area.

In December 2011, she was convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license, according to court data.

A vandalism charge filed in January 2012 is pending, the records say.

Welch was convicted in August 2007 of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, according to the county court's website. The code she was charged with violating applies to someone "who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct" in public, the state penal code says.

Also in August 2007, a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge against Welch that's related to someone "who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct" in public was dismissed or not prosecuted, the records show.

The state code doesn't appear to specify whether Welch's other charges in Los Angeles County are also misdemeanors.