A U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria awarded $110,000 in damages yesterday to a Rockville couple who were among the hundreds of area residents police say were burglarized by Bernard Welch, the convicted slayer of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam.
It took the jury less than 30 minutes of deliberation to award $10,000 in compensation and $100,000 in punitive damages to Robert and Lisa Freda, whose civil suit against Welch was the first of many to be filed against him by burglary victims, the Internal Revenue Service and Elliott Jones, the widow of Dr. Halberstam who was shot to death by Welch last December.
Because the IRS has already filed a lien against Welch and his female companion, Linda Sue Hamilton, for $24 million in unpaid taxes, there is some doubt that the Fredas or Jones, who has filed an $81 million suit against Welch, will ever collect damages.
"It may well be that now it will be the Internal Revenue Service that will keep us from collecting," said Freda, a Washington lawyer. "But the jury was serving sort of as the community's conscience and at least a statement was made."
Freda claimed that Welch took about $9,000 in jewelry and other valuables in a burglary at the Freda home Nov. 16 that caused "severe and continuing mental and emotional distress." Mrs. Freda recovered approximately one-third of those valuables last December when belongings found in Welch's home were put on public display at Fairfax County police headquarters.
Welch did not testify at the 90-minute trial and his attorney, Sol Rosen, refused to cross-examine witnesses or call any for the defense. Rosen told U.S. District Court Judge Richard Williams that he had been fired by Welch. But Judge Williams ruled that the proper motions had not been made to that effect and ordered that Rosen serve as the attorney or record.