Suspect in 2017 fatal shooting of Onslow Co. deputy sentenced to 13-16 years in prison

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) One of the suspects in the fatal shooting of an Onslow County deputy in 2017 has been sentenced to 13-16 years in prison.

Also, William “Will” James Welch Jr. pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder and a charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Welch appeared in Onslow County Superior Court Wednesday morning.

He will serve between 13-16 years in prison for shooting and killing William Joseph Clifton and leaving his body in Woodlands Park in Jacksonville.

According to District Attorney Ernie Lee, Caitlyn Ridgeway pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in Onslow Superior Court.

Caitlyn Ridgeway

She received a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years for robbery with the sentences to run consecutively.  

Investigators said that on July 6, 2017, Welch Jr. shot 48-year-old Clifton, an Onslow County Sheriff’s deputy, at Woodlands Park in Jacksonville, near the JASA Soccer Fields.

William Joseph Clifton

Welch told detectives he saw Clifton at the park, hugging and kissing Ridgeway, who was in a relationship with Clifton.

Welch attacked Clifton and took his gun, a Glock 21 .45 Caliber Pistol ACP.

Welch said he turned Clifton over, took his wallet, and proceeded to strike the victim with the gun.

The body of Clifton was found at 6:30 a.m. on July 7, 2017, in Woodlands Park.

An autopsy later determined Clifton had been shot five times and that he was fatally wounded by a gunshot that entered the left side of his body, went through his heart, and severed his aorta.

That projectile was recovered and was consistent with a round from a Glock 21 .45 Caliber Pistol ACP.

Judgment and sentencing for Welch have been continued until the disposition of the case involving any co-defendant, and Welch remains in custody.

Welch’s co-conspirator, Caitlyn Ridgeway, was also charged with murder in this case.

Ridgeway and Welch were the last students at Jacksonville High school in April 2017.

Clifton was a school resource officer at Southwest High School.

Clifton was a school resource officer at Southwest High School.

According to court documents, Ridgeway sought protection from Clifton last year.

The documents state Ridgeway and Clifton were in a relationship and he sent her pictures of guns and pills, threatened her and came to her job.

He also tied her to a bed twice, according to the documents.

The February 2016 order said Clifton must stay away from Ridgeway and her family for one year.

The order also states Clifton contacted the teen after being told not to while an internal investigation was ongoing in the Sheriff’s Department.

Clifton resigned from the Sheriff’s Office at the time of the protective order.

Neighbors who live in the area near Ridgeway’s former home say she was quiet, and they didn’t see her out and about too often.

“Jacksonville Police Detectives and NCIS Carolinas Field Office Special Agents have worked this joint investigation together since the morning of Friday, July 7 and conferred regularly with the Onslow County District Attorney’s Office,” said Captain Ashley Weaver, JPD Investigative Services Supervisor. “We do not anticipate additional arrests. The investigation is open and we are unable to release additional information at this time.”

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