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Meet the candidates for district attorney

Two candidates are competing for the job of top legal prosecutor in the seven western counties.

The seat came up for grabs when District Attorney Mike Bonfoey announced his retirement after 11 years in the role. Two assistant prosecutors who work under Bonfoey are vying for the job.

 

Ashley Welch realized at a young age that her dream was to be a prosecutor.

“I have never waivered from that. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s who I am,” said Welch, 36.

Her epiphany came at 13 during a school career project in her hometown of Hendersonville. She had to shadow someone in the workforce and chose a defense attorney with a murder case heading to court. Welch suddenly found herself sitting in a gruesome trial.

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But Welch faced a bigger problem than stomaching the autopsy photos. She felt like she was shadowing the guy on the wrong team.

“I remember asking this attorney ‘Did he do it?’ and he said ‘It doesn’t matter,’” Welch recalled. “I was just horrified.”

Welch was instead drawn to the other side of the courtroom, enamored with the role of the prosecutor trying to convince the jury to lock up the person responsible for the tragedy.

When the trial was over, Welch asked the district attorney’s office if she could shadow one of the them for the remainder of the class project.

“Even when the class was over I would follow them around,” Welch said. 

Welch, who’s a Republican, attended law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Come summer, she made fast tracks back to Hendersonville and volunteered as a non-paid intern in the district attorney’s office.

Proving her dedication, she landed a job as an assistant district attorney in Hendersonville right out of law school in 2003. After two years she got a cold call one day from Mike Bonfoey, the district attorney for the seven western counties, asking her to come meet with him. She didn’t realize at first he was trying to recruit her, but when she showed up, she was offered a job on the spot.

In Henderson County, Welch was a district court prosecutor, and faced years trying the lower-level misdemeanors before working her way up to a superior court prosecutor. Bonfoey offered her a position as the main prosecutor for Macon County — handling both district and superior court calendars — which would put her in charge of higher-level cases.

Welch proved herself as one of the top-notch prosecutors in the region, handling complex and difficult cases with skill. Bonfoey started to pull her in to assist with big trials that came up in other counties.

“There were some cases that were going to be tried that needed some fineness to them and Mike said ‘I need you to go handle these,’” Welch said. Her role evolved from overseeing the Macon court docket to working whatever cases she was needed on at any given time.

Welch’s husband, Brian, is the attorney for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office. When they met, Brian was a defense attorney in Henderson County, which shows she doesn’t have anything against defense attorneys even though she would never want to be one herself.

“Some of my dear friends are criminal defense attorneys and I married one, but I would be a terrible criminal defense attorney,” Welch said.

Brian followed Welch to Macon, where they still live. 

Jim Moore is running on his trial experience — nearly 30 years in the courtroom trying every kind of case, and on both sides of the isle.

“Knowing what it takes to protect families and communities, my 28 years of experience in the DA’s office and in the community are invaluable,” Moore said.

Moore doesn’t keep count, but estimated he’s been involved in 40 murder cases over his career.

Moore has been both a prosecutor and defender — 16 years as an assistant district attorney and 12 years in various private legal practices in Waynesville, including a joint practice at one point with his wife, Connie, who is also an attorney.

Moore is originally from Arkansas. His mom was a legal secretary, and his dad was a deputy sheriff. So Moore was immersed in the world of courts and law enforcement as a child, which led him on a path to law school.

“My mom and dad raised me to always tell the truth and be honest with people and try to help them when you can,” Moore said. 

He followed his wife back to Western North Carolina in 1986 after the two met in law school. Moore and his wife began their legal careers in Waynesville at the same practice, but as attorneys tend to do, they drifted around as practices split, merged, morphed and formed.

Moore quickly demonstrated his skill as an attorney, taking on his first murder case in 1989 after just three years of practicing. During that time, he also worked on a contract basis as prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians court system.

“That’s where I first got the bug for being a prosecutor,” said Moore, who’s a Democrat.

So he joined the district attorney’s office in 1991 under then-DA Charlie Hipps. He was the youngest assistant district attorney at the time.

Moore returned to private practice in 1996, needing a more flexible schedule given the needs of his family at the time, starting a joint practice with his wife. Moore, 53, has three children — now ages 16, 25 and 26.

But Moore always hoped to come back to the district attorney’s office one day. That day came in 2003, when his long-time friend Mike Bonfoey was named district attorney after Hipps’ death. Moore’s children were older by then, and the timing was right. Bonfoey also offered Moore a unique position in the office. Bonfoey wanted Moore to serve as the chief assistant prosecutor, someone who goes where the big cases are, coaching other assistant attorneys when they need help and providing back-up wherever needed — a role he’s now held for the past dozen years.

Moore’s wife, Connie, now works for Legal Services as a civil attorney for victims of domestic violence.

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