D.C. judge orders pharmacist accused of killing husband released from jail

A D.C. Superior Court judge found enough evidence Wednesday to support the possibility that a Walter Reed pharmacist accused of killing her husband last week acted in self-defense.

Judge Robert E. Morin reduced the charge against Diana Lalchan from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter and ordered that she be released into a halfway house and placed on Global Positioning System monitoring until her trial. Lalchan is accused of fatally shooting her husband, Christopher Lalchan, in their Southwest Washington condo on March 28.

Lalchan's attorney, Arthur Ago of the District’s Public Defender Service, said his client was battered by her husband during their four-year marriage. Lalchan told friends, according to an investigator, that she never filed assault charges or sought a restraining order because her husband had plans to enter politics.

Prosecutors initially charged Lalchan with second-degree murder and, at Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, indicated they had plans to elevate the charge to first-degree murder. They said that Christopher Lalchan, 36, was shot in the back of the head and that evidence showed his wife was walking toward him as she fired. At the hearing, Morin said he wanted more information about the report that Lalchan was killed by a bullet to the back of the head. “I need clarity on that,” Morin said.

Diana Lalchan, 27, sobbed when marshals escorted her into the courtroom and she saw her parents and friends sitting in the audience. During most of the hearing, she sat with her head bowed in her hands, her hair covering her face. At times, she rocked back and forth. At one point Morin became concerned with Lalchan's behavior and asked her attorney to inquire about his client’s condition.

Lalchan grew up in Bethlehem, Pa., the daughter of a physician and his wife, who emigrated from Taiwan. Argo described his client as a highly motivated woman who graduated from high school in three years, finished college in two years and earned a doctorate degree in pharmaceuticals. He said that after her arrest, she was placed on paid administrative leave from her job at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Argo said his client had no prior arrests or history of drug use.

Lalchan told detectives she met her husband in church but had never met his family, who are from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. None of Christopher Lalchan’s family members attended the hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright repeatedly argued she was concerned about Lalchan's mental state. Wright played the 911 call in which Lalchan, sounding calm, told the operator that her husband “was getting violent. I shot him. He’s on the floor.” When the operator asked whether she wanted an ambulance, Lalchan instead requested police. Wright argued that women who are victims of domestic abuse are often hysterical after a violent incident.

Homicide Detective Robert Cephas Jr. testified that Lalchan told police she and her husband were arguing the night he was killed and that he never struck her. She told police that her husband had grabbed a mop and lunged at her but that she was able to take the mop from him. Lalchan said she told her husband she was afraid of him and that he went into a room, took out a .40 caliber pistol, placed it on a TV stand and told her “you should feel safe now.”

Lalchan, who also had a knife with her the night her husband died, told detectives her husband then lunged at her and she grabbed the gun and fired, striking her husband once in the back of the head. Cephas testified that preliminary results showed Lalchan was pointing the gun downward when she shot her husband, as though he were on the floor.

Lalchan told detectives she and her husband were in the process of separating.

The case was sent to a grand jury. Jurors could, based on additional evidence, indict Lalchan on additional charges, including second-degree murder. A follow-up hearing was scheduled for May 10.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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