Bernard Charles Welch, accused killer of Washington physician Michael Halberstam, was ordered held without bond yesterday by a D.C. Superior Court judge who said there were no conditions of release that would ensure the safety of the community.
Welch sat passively as a D.C. police detective detailed the fatal shooting Friday night and Halberstam's final moments as the dying doctor, at the wheel of his car, ran down a man later identified as Welch. Prosecutors also recited Welch's extensive criminal record, which includes 12 felony convictions in a one-year period before Welch became a fugitive from a New York prison.
Meanwhile, police say the revolver used to kill Halberstam was stolen last month during a burglary of an FBI agent's home in Fairfax County. Also, Richmond area police say they want to question Welch about a series of burglaries there involving losses of more than $300,000 in valuables, and Montgomery County police issued two burglary warrants for Welch yesterday in connection with silver, jewelry and fur coat thefts in that county.
At yesterday's court hearing here, D.C. homicide detective Lloyd W. Davis outlined the events surrounding the shooting from statements given police by Halberstam's wife, Elliott Jones.
Davis testified that the couple returned to their home on Battery Place NW about 8:30 p.m. and that Halberstam entered the front door while Jones went to the rear of the house to release two pet dogs into the back yard. As she was about to enter the home through a porch door, Davis said, Jones saw her husband standing in the dining room and heard him say: "Ellie, there's someone in the house. Do whatever he tells you."
Jones then heard a man shout from outside her view: "Lie down on the floor, or I will blow your ---- head off," Davis testified.
Halberstam and Jones both started to get down on the floor, Davis said, but as Jones looked up she saw her husband "get up . . . and proceed down the hallway to the front door."
She then heard "four or five shots from the direction of the front yard," ran through the house and found her wounded husband outside, Davis said.
Moments later, after Jones jumped into the family car with Halberstam to drive to nearby Sibley Hospital, they spotted a man on foot about a tenth of a mile from their home, Davis said."There's the guy," Davis quoted Jones as recalling Halberstam saying. Halberstam then swerved the car, hitting the man, Davis testified.
Police later found Welch behind a large barrel-like shrubbery pot, suffering from bruises, Davis testified. Also recovered nearby, Davis said, were a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, a flashlight, a pair of gloves and a screwdriver. Ballistics tests, Davis said, "positively identified" the revolver as the weapon that fired the two bullets removed from Halberstam's body.
Later, outside Sibley Hospital, Jones was taken by police to an ambulance where she was asked to identify Welch, who was lying on a stretcher with his jacket on top of him.
"That's him," the detective said Jones told him. "There's his mustache. There's his fluffy hair. See, there's also the coat he was wearing."
Welch's attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, immediately challenged Jones' identification, protesting that it amounted to a "one-man lineup." Rosen argued further that Jones could not say that the man inside the Halberstam home was the same man Halberstam ran down with this car.
Finally, Rosen declared, Halberstam's identification of the man just before hitting him was of doubtful credibility. Outside the court after the hearing, Rosen called it a "dying man's declaration."
Halberstam's wife was "obviously in shock and frightened," Rosen told a reporter. "Her husband was bleeding to death. She was put in a suggestive situation. The police put the coat right next to him [Welch] and said, 'Is he the one?' What do you want [her] to say? That's ridiculous. It's what we used to call a 'guilty man's confession.'"
Jones will be taken before a formal police lineup tomorrow where she again will be asked to identify the man her husband struck with the car.
Rosen said after yesterday's hearing that he wanted "eight or nine white people of similar build" at the lineup, "or I'm going to scream bloody murder."
Superior Court Judge Robert A. Shuker brushed aside Rosen's identification arguments yesterday and ordered Welch held without bond under the city's rarely used preventive detention statute. Under the provision, a judge may hold a prisoner in jail before trial if prosecutors satisfy him that no condition of release would reasonably assure the safety of the community or if the suspect has been convicted of a dangerous crime in the last 10 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberta T. Eaton detailed at the hearing Welch's 12 previous burglary and grand larceny convictions in upstate New York between June 1971 and May 1972. She said Welch was expected to serve jail terms through January 1991.
Welch also is wanted on a prison escape charge from upstate New York. If Judge Shuker had denied D.C. prosecutors' request for preventive detention and set bond, Welch still would have had to face New York, Virginia, and Maryland arrest warrants.