A Ross Twp. teen will be nearly 50 years old when he is released from prison for the shooting death of a fellow high school student in January.
Zachary Welsh, now 18, who was to be tried as an adult for killing Ross High School student Austin Hensley, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated robbery and two counts of tampering with evidence for the fatal shooting on Jan. 30 at his Hine Road home.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens sentenced Welsh to 30 years in prison, which was an agreed upon sentence by the defense and prosecution in exchange for the guilty plea.
Welsh was originally charged with murder, as well as aggravated robbery, felonious assault and tampering with evidence.
Hensley was found in the house with a shotgun laying against his temple. He died of one shot to the head, and police later learned the shotgun was not loaded.
During questioning by Butler County Sheriff’s detectives, Welsh said he intended to rob Hensley of the shotgun, but when he went to “pistol whip” the teen, the gun went off. Welsh said he then wiped down the gun, washed his hands and stashed the .38-caliber in a hole in a closet of another room.
The courtroom was packed for the sentencing, with Hensley’s mother and sister making emotional statements about the loss of their “Bubby.”
“Imagine what it is like to bring your child home from the hospital in a pumpkin seat for the first time and then carry your child home in a box from the funeral home. That is all I have left,” said Tracey Hensley, Austin’s mother, while sobbing. “You see Zack, you murdered my son, but you also murdered a part of me, a part that I will never get back, and you stand there and you can’t even look at me.”
Welsh who was staring straight ahead, then turned to the grieving mother and said, “I looked at you.”
The judge called his name in warning and Welsh faced forward again.
“This person standing here in this courtroom I could tear him apart. … I have never hated anyone as much as I hate Zack Welsh,” Tracey Hensley said, but noted such anger would not bring her son back. “He has done this to himself and everyone pays the price.”
Defense attorney Richard Hyde told the judge, “This is a tragic situation that effected two families and tore two families apart. I talked to Zack and Zack wishes he could got back in time to change things, but that is just not the way it works.”
Welsh declined to make a statement before sentencing.
After sentencing, Stephens said he hopes both families can eventually heal.
“So many lives leave here today forever changed and cannot be put back together,” the judge said.
Because of Welsh’s age and the seriousness of the crime, the case was a mandatory relinquishment to adult court. He will receive more that 200 days credit toward his prison sentence for the time he has served awaiting trial.
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