Bernard C. Welch pleaded innocent yesterday to charges that he murdered Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam on Dec. 5 and burglarized several Northwest Washington homes in the hours before the slaying.
Welch, who appeared in D.C. Superior Court with virtually no facial and head hair, was making his first public appearance since he shaved his head in an apparently successful attempt to avoid being identified by crime victims at a recent D.C. police lineup.
Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I ordered Welch to stand trial on the 11-count indictment on April 1. Welch, who has been held without bond at the D.C. Jail since he was arrested shortly after the killing, waived his right to be tried within the regularly required 60-day period for defendants being held without bond.
Welch's arraignment occurred one day after publication of an exclusive interview in Life magazine in which he said that his life had been "destroyed" as a result of his arrest and incarceration in connection with the Halberstam slaying. Some independent drugstores have decided not to sell the current issue of the magazine after it was disclosed the Life agreed to pay Welch $8,000 for eight personal photographs of his life that ran with the controversial article.
In court yesterday, Moultrie reminded Welch's attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, that Welch has not yet submitted a signed affidavit stating his financial condition, and thus no final determination could be made as to whether Welch is eligible for publicly paid legal services.
Rosen reiterated his claim that Welch is an indigent and noted that there are more than $24 million in federal tax liens that have been filed against him and Linda Sue Hamilton, the woman with whom Welch lived for four four years until his arrest.
Although Welch pleaded innocent to the charges against him, Rosen has said in the past that Welch might plead innocent by reason of insanity. Welch currently is undergoing psychiatric evaluations to determine his sense of responsibility at the time of the Halberstam killing and presumably could change his plea to raise an insanity defense at a later date.
Rosen has asked that Welch's trial be shifted outside of the District of Columbia, but Moultrie has made no decision on the request. There is apparently no precedent for moving a local trial outside the city, unlike in federal or state court systems where highly publicized trials are occasionally moved from one city to another.
Welch is also charged with rape in Fairfax County.