Peter Welte, '97, reflects on 13 years as County's Top Prosecutor

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School of Law


As with other outgoing criminal justice officials, the most memorable case of Peter Welte's tenure was Dru Sjodin's.

At the time, Welte was still relatively inexperienced, just 11 months into his new position as the Grand Forks County State's Attorney, the county's top prosecutor.

Now, 13 years on, Welte tendered his resignation last month, leaving the county to go back into private practice.

Welte remembers being pulled away from his Thanksgiving dinner in 2003 to be briefed by law enforcement officials on the evidence they had pieced together against then 50-year-old Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.

"It was one of those epiphanies," Welte said of seeing law enforcement agents from numerous agencies, including Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI.

Law enforcement officials told Welte of the interviews they had with area sex offenders, of the Tool Job knife they had seen in the trunk of Rodriguez' car and the matching sheath they had found by Sjodin's car.

Soon thereafter, Welte drafted the document charging Rodriguez with Sjodin's kidnapping from a mall parking lot on Nov. 22, 2003.

Shortly after filing the charges, Welte remembers being blindsided by a crowd of satellite trucks and news crews outside the Grand Forks Police Department, where a news conference was to spring up.

He remembers former Police Chief John Packett dressed in his "blues" for the occasion and remembers being thrown underneath blinding camera lights to tell the little authorities knew at the time.

In the end, Welte said, "The rewarding part was we got the guy. It was a success story for Grand Forks City."

But Welte recalled rewarding moments in less notorious cases, too.

He recounted how once, at Valley Dairy, a woman came up to him, asking whether he remembered her.

Welte said she had a little boy, probably just on the verge of his teens.

It turned out that Welte had prosecuted the boy's father 10 years prior for brutally beating up the boy when he was a toddler.

"Like the boy and the starfish," Welte said, invoking the tale of the boy who walked along the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean because it made all the difference to each one.

A new chapter

Welte announced his resignation last month, sending a letter to the Grand Forks County Commission saying he was leaving the county to venture into private practice with Vogel Law Firm, which has locations in Bismarck, Fargo, Williston and soon, Grand Forks.

Welte plans on opening a Vogel office in Grand Forks Feb. 1, the very day he steps down from his position as the county's top prosecutor.

Welte did not cite any frustrations with his job as county state's attorney in his letter of resignation and maintained in his interview with the Herald Tuesday that he enjoyed working with the County Commission, the district judges and the roughly two dozen other employees in the State's Attorney's Office.

"Other than farming, it's the best job I ever had," Welte said from his courthouse office, which is decorated with drawings by his children, family photographs, signed baseballs and even a photo of himself sitting next to Pete Rose, former Major League Baseball player and Cincinnati Reds manager, who apparently jokingly pressed Welte as to what kind of lawyer he was.

Welte is looking forward to working one-on-one with clients again and most of all, to spending more time with his family, he said.

"I'll have control over my schedule," he said, citing the wealth of "externalities" that make his job unpredictable.

"Everything we do is driven by externalities," said Welte, pointing out he has no control over who is arrested each night.

The County Commission will choose Welte's replacement and is planning on interviewing the four applicants, all of whom are Grand Forks County assistant state's attorneys, Friday: David Jones, Carmell Mattison, Jason McCarthy and Haley Wamstad.