The lawyer for Bernard C. Welch, alleged super thief and accused slayer of Dr. Michael Halberstam, yesterday asked a District of Columbia judge to order a mental competency hearing for Welch because of his compulsive behavior in the last five years.

In a motion presented to Superior Court Judge Robert A. Shuker, attorney Sol Z. Rosen said that extensive news reports regarding Welch's background indicated "there might be some pattern of compulsive behavior which might have its roots in mental illness."

Welch is considering a plea of innocent by reason of insanity, according to documents filed by Rosen. The lawyer said he wanted Welch examined by "trained psychiatrists so that this information regarding Welch's competency can be secured to assist that defense in these proceedings."

If granted, the examination would seek to determine both the defendant's competency -- his ability to understand the charge against him and assist his attorney in his defense -- and his responsibility, whether his alleged criminal offense was the product of mental illness.

One court source said such examinations often are approved by judges following a preliminary psychiatric screening process. In Welch's case, the exam -- which would be conducted at St. Elizabeths Hospital -- could have the effect of delaying trial for several months, the source said.

A prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in the District of Columbia yesterday declined to comment on the motion. The issue is expected to be argued in court soon, but officials gave no specific date.

Rosen said in court papers that he has met with Welch and has had trouble conversing with him, which Rosen said might make defense efforts difficult.

"The press seems to have implicated him in hundreds of robberies, rapes and assorted crimes in the past five years," Rosen said in an interview yesterday. a"I want to see if there is any compulsive behavior which would be a form of mental illness and would have bearing on his responsibility for his alleged offense."

Terry H. Russell, deputy director of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Superior Court, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Welch currently is being held without bond as ordered by Judge Shuker last week.

Meanwhile, police yesterday raised the number of recent Washington-area burglaries in which Welch may be implicated to 237 based on claims by hundreds of area residents who have flocked to Fairfax County police headquarters to identify allegedly stolen valuables seized Dec. 6 in Welch's house in Great Falls.

Nearly 3,000 persons from an estimated 800 households were expected to have filed through the building's basement identification rooms by midnight Monday. fPolice said almost 2,000 lots, many of which included dozens of items, had been positively identified by yesterday morning. Approximately 3,000 lots of antique dolls, forearms, jewelry, silver services and other valuables worth an estimated $4 million have been tagged and catalogued by Fairfax investigators. e

Members of about one-third of the households have positively identified something as theirs, according to authorities. They represent virtually every Washington-area jurisdiction -- most of them coming from Fairfax and Montgomery counties -- but also some a far away as Frederick and Richmond.

Crowd-control tickets issued for last evening's viewing of the confiscated goods were gone by Sunday noon, and police said yesterday that a viewing scheduled for next Saturday has been booked up as well. Another viewing is scheduled for Sunday.

Welch was captured Dec. 5 after he allegedly shot Dr. Halberstam during an aborted attempt to burglarize the cardiologist's Northwest Washington home. The following day, police from three area jurisdictions searched Welch's Great Falls ranch house and discovered 51 boxes of allegedly stolen goods in the basement.

Investigators subsequently spent 6 days and nearly 500 man-hours unwrapping, tagging and cataloguing the loot, which apparently represents successful burglaries committed within the last six months, police said.

Among the victims are young couples, wealthy professionals, retirees and the elderly, many of whom say they have lived in fear of the burglar's return. Under a tight security wrap of three dozen officers from numerous jurisdictions, about 26 ticket holders are escorted each hour through the identification rooms where the valuables are displayed.

Though the long lines of anxious victims have disappeared outside the station, dozens of persons continue to line the halls of police headquarters.

Welch currently is being held without bond in the District of Columbia.