The widow and brother of slain Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam have sharply criticized Life magazine's arrangement to pay $9,000 to Bernard C. Welch, the man charged with Halberstam's murder, for exclusive photographs that will appear in the magazine's February issue.
"We consider them [Life] to be an accomplice of my brother's killer," said author David Halberstam, contending the magazine is improperly rewarding an accused killer and professional burglar. "The whole thing is shattering to us. They [Life editors] are as smarmy as the National Enquirer, hiding in their fancier suits."
Elliot Jones, Michael Halberstam's widow, who said she freely provided Life with photographs of Halberstam without knowledge of the Welch deal, said she would never have cooperated had she known the magazine intended to pay for photographs of Welch and interview him.
"It devastated me," Jones said. "Somewhere in New York they decided, 'Well, we know we're going to get a lot of flak out of this, but we'll ride it out. His widow, this might cause her some grief, but the hell with them. We'll sell a lot of copies.'"
An editor of Life said yesterday that the magazine "did not mislead Elliot Jones about what sort of story we were doing, nor did we pay money to interview Welch. We told Welch's agent [an attorney representing Welch's literary interests] that we would pay for any photographs we chose to run with the story."
Life did not agree to buy the photographs until after viewing them, the editor said, and Life did not consider its exclusive interview with Welch as part of the financial agreement struck with his attorney.
In a related development, D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Belson -- who had tentatively granted Welch a psychiatric examination paid for with public funds after Welch claimed he had no money -- yesterday wrote Welch's defense attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, reminding him that an affidavit supporting Welch's alleged indigency was one week overdue.
Until the affidavit is filed, the letter said, no final determination of Welch's indigency claim will be made. Belson's original order said that if it were later established that Welch could afford the cost of the psychiatric examination, he would be required to make some reimbursement.
The controversy surrounding Welch's financial arrangements with Life surfaced Wednesday, one day before Welch was formally indicted on a charge of the first-degree murder of Halberstam, who was shot by an intruder at his Northwest Washington home last Dec. 5. He was also indicted on burglary charges in connection with break-ins at four other homes in Washington the day of the Halberstam killing.
In his interview with Life, Welch sidesteps the question of his involvement in the Halberstam case, but says that a list of his burglary victims "would read like a Who's Who of Washington politics."
The Life article will also contain eight snapshots of Welch and a photo taken of him at D.C. jail. Welch's attorneys continued yesterday to decline comment on the agreement with Life.
David Halberstam, a former New York Times reporter, said that Life has now offered to pay the Halberstams for photos of Michael. "They can take their money and stuff it . . ." David Halberstam said.