Government prosecuters argued yesterday that because Bernard C. Welch boasted about his life of crime in a Life magazine interview, the accused slayer of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam has no basis for asking that his upcoming trial be moved from the District of Columbia because of adverse pretrial publicity.
Welch had "sought notoriety by bragging about his criminal prowess" and is "not in a position to complain that alleged massive prejudicial pretrial publicity will deny him a fair trial," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Terry H. Russell and Jay B. Stephens said in a motion filed in D.C. Superior Court.
Welch's trial is set to begin on April 1. Although the District has no "change of venue" provision, Welch's attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, has said Welch has an "inherent constitutional right" to a fair trial and has asked Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I to transfer the case to another jurisdiction, claiming that the heavy media publicity about the case would hurt Welch's chance of obtaining a fair trial.
In opposing the transfer, which government prosecutors called neither appropriate nor necessary, the U.S. Attorney's office cited other cases where defendants had sought publicity for their actions, such as the 1977 Hanafi Muslim trial, in which the convictions of 12 Hanafis were upheld even though the cases received massive press coverage here. The Hanafis could not "complain that the very fact of the publicity they wanted interfered with their right to a fair trial," the motion said.
"similarly," the motion said, "defendant Welch reportedly sold part of his life's story in an interview with a nationally recognized magazine and apparently sought notoriety . . . the defendant cannot thereby bootstrap himself into a claim of prejudicial pretrial publicity requiring a change of venue."
Life magazine agreed to pay Welch $8,000 for eight personal photographs and also obtained an exclusive jailhouse interview with the accused slayer, all of which appeared in the magazine's February issue.
The government's motion also said that the Welch case "pales" in comparison with publicity surrounding the Watergate prosecutions and trials, which were held in the District. Welch's attorney Rosen was not available for comment.