Welch Pleads Guilty in 'Doubtfire' Arson

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Saturday June 6, 2015
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A transgender woman pleaded guilty recently to setting fire to the San Francisco house made famous in the 1993 film "Mrs. Doubtfire."

Tyqwon Eugene Welch's plea came weeks after she told the Bay Area Reporter she was innocent.

"I didn't do any of that stuff," Welch, 26, of Los Angeles, said in a jailhouse interview in March.

Welch has been in custody since shortly after two fires were set January 5 at the Doubtfire house, at 2640 Steiner Street, in Pacific Heights.

In an emailed statement Monday, June 1, Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Hilton, Welch's attorney, said, "Miss Welch considered the serious nature of the charges against her and the risks inherent in trial and decided this was the best resolution in light of those risks. She is looking forward to returning to Los Angeles so she can put this incident behind her."

In May, Welch pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawfully causing a fire to an inhabited structure and one count of possession of an incendiary device, Max Szabo, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said Monday.

All three charges are felonies, but none of them counts as a strike, which could have enhanced punishment for any future crimes.

Welch had also been charged with attempted murder, but Szabo said it had been "determined there wasn't sufficient evidence" to sustain that count, and it was dropped.

According to the public defender's office, Welch is set to be released Thursday, June 4, when she's expected to be sentenced to five years of probation. Following sentencing guidelines, since she's been in custody since early January, she will have already served the yearlong jail term that's also expected to be part of her sentence.

Welch, who entered her guilty pleas May 14 and was still in custody on $750,000 bail as of Monday, will also have to register as an arsonist for life. Additionally, she's been ordered to stay away from Dr. Douglas Ousterhout, 79, the home's owner, and another doctor, among other terms. She'll be able to transfer her probation to Los Angeles.

Ousterhout, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story, testified in a March preliminary hearing that he and Welch had a dispute over the facial feminization surgery he performed on her in June 2014. Welch, who paid about $45,000 for the procedure, eventually wanted a refund, he said. That refund was denied. Welch told the B.A.R. that none of the procedures she'd discussed with Ousterhout "came out right."

Ousterhout testified that he'd been at his home at about 12:25 p.m. January 5 when he heard something at the mailbox. He went to his door and saw Welch "with most of my mail in her hands." Ousterhout said he got the mail back from her, and started to re-enter the house when Welch "pushed me in and closed the door behind her." She asked for his checkbook but eventually left. (Ousterhout didn't say he gave her the checkbook.)

The doctor told the court that later that evening he was in his kitchen at about 8:15 p.m. when he smelled gasoline and saw "the front door was glowing." He opened his front door to find the doormat on fire. He soon realized the door also was ablaze, but he eventually was able to extinguish the flames. His garage door was also burned during the incident. Ousterhout, who was home alone at the time of the fire, wasn't injured.

In January, Welch pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder count, along with charges of burning an inhabited dwelling, possession of an incendiary device, trespassing, buying or receiving stolen property, making criminal threats, annoying phone calls, and burglary.

After the preliminary hearing, Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy ruled there was enough evidence for her to stand trial on all but the criminal threats and annoying phone calls counts. Assistant District Attorney Andrew Clark had already dropped a burglary charge.

Hilton had repeatedly said the case against Welch was based on "circumstantial" evidence. No one had witnessed Welch at the house around the time of the fires, and there was no surveillance video showing her there, court testimony indicated.

After the B.A.R. interviewed Welch, she had wanted to replace Hilton, who had represented her since her arraignment. Hilton had declined to facilitate an interview with Welch, but through her mother, Jeanette McSwain, Welch had approached the paper.

The relationship between Hilton and Welch appeared to deteriorate, with Hilton at one point telling a B.A.R. reporter, "It's your fault. ... I don't have anything to say to you."