A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday ordered Bernard C. Welch, the accused slayer of Washington cardiologist and author Michael Halberstam, to undergo a preliminary psychiatric examination to see if additional tests are necessary after that to determine his competence to stand trial.
Judge James A. Belson ordered that court psychiatrists conduct the mental examination of Welch at the D.C. Jail to allay government fears that Welch -- a convicted felon and fugitive from New York state -- might try to escape if the examination is held at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where such procedures normally take place.
Belson denied the request of Welch's lawyer, Sol Z. Rosen, for a comprehensive forensic examination of Welch's state of mind pending the outcome of the preliminary tests. The full examination could delay the start of Welch's trial for up to two months.
Welch has been held without bond since he was charged with the fatal shooting of Halberstam on Dec. 5. Rosen has said in court papers that Welch is considering pleading innocent by reason of insanity in the case.
In contrast to his haggard and unkempt look in previous court appearances, Welch came to court yesterday cleanshaven and well groomed. He no longer wore a mustache and his heavy growth of beard had been shaved.
Rosen said in court that "there is strong evidence to show that Mr. Welch allegedly may have been involved in a series of complusive acts that may have its roots in psychiatric problems."
Rosen said he had had some difficulty in communicating with Welch and wanted to determine whether Welch was going to be able to assist in his own defense.
Rosen later told a reporter that his request for a forensic examination was based on the reported huge number of burgalries in which Welch is a suspect, including four the night of the Halberstam slaying.
"His behavior seems so bizarre, to say that someone is involved in hundreds if not thousands of burglaries," Rosen said. "How many pills do you have to have before you get high? How much do you have to eat before your hunger pains are satisifed? . . . Maybe the devil made him do it. Maybe he's hearing celestial voices saying, 'Go burglarize.'"
Belson also ordered that Welch provide a sample of his head hair to the U.S. attorney for its grand jury investigation of the Halberstam slaying. However, Belson said that when the hair is cut, police, jail guards and other law enforcement authorities would be prohibited from questioning Welch.
In another development concerning Welch, Les Croney Masonry Inc., o Centreville, field a $9,028.42 lien against Linda Sue Hamilton, the woman Welch lived with in Great Falls. The lien, filed Dec. 9 in Fairfax Circuit Court, claimed that the money is owed the firm for work done on the property.
Meanwhile, burgulary victims are finding that problems can arise when they have already filed insurance claims and received payments for their stolen valuables. Thus, if they located stolen items this week at Fairfax County police headquarters where goods seized from Welch's home have been on display, they don't own them anymore, their insurance company does.
Then the problem becomes one of whether the item carries sufficient monetary and sentimental value for the owner to want to buy it back. Most insurance company representatives contacted yesterday said that the owner always gets first crack at buying the goods back, even if the insurance claim has already been spent and the original owner is short on money.