A D.C. Superior Court psychiatrist yesterday recommended that Bernard C. Welch, the accused slayer of Washington cardiologist and author Michael Halberstam, be declared mentally competent to stand trial for murder.
Earlier this week, Welch's lawyer contended that the large number of crimes allegedly committed by Welch -- more than 200 according to Fairfax County police -- could be evidence of compulsive behavior that would serve as the basis for an insanity plea. A preliminary psychiatric examination was ordered by Judge James A. Belson.
In a report filed with the judge yesterday, Dr. James L. Evans reported that Welch "has a rational and factual understanding of the charges and is mentally able to participate with (his lawyer) in the preparation of his defense."
The one-page report is to be made public Monday, when a court hearing is scheduled to determine Welch's mental competency. A copy of the report was obtained yesterday by The Washington Post.
Evans' said in his report that he had examined Welch on Thursday at the D.C. Jail and that Welch exhibited "no indication of an abnormality in his behavior or emotional state.
"His thinking was clear and well-organized," the report said, "and there was no indication of a disturbance in his thinking processes. He (Welch) was able to discuss the charges in a coherent fashion. Furthermore, he was able to discuss the duties of courtroom officers accurately and well."
According to the report, Welch was cooperative during the examination, although he was suffering from a mild respiratory infection and had a temperature of 99.2 degrees at the time. The report stated that Welch was receiving treatment for the illness, and the temperature "did not substantially interfere with his mental functioning" during the evaluation.
The report also said that Welch denied having a "past history of psychiatric illness and denied ever having received a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder or having been treated for a psychiatric disorder."
Welch is being held without bond the D.C. jail pending trial on charges stemming from the slaying of Halberstam, who was shot Dec. 5 at his Northwest Washington home after he apparently surprised a burglar.
Welch was arrested near the scene of the shooting after Halberstam, who was driving his car to nearby Sibley Hospital, spotted the man he suspected of shooting him and ran the suspect down. Later, police termed Welch a virtual one-man crime wave and accused him of being involved in scores of silver and jewelry thefts throughout the metropolitan area.
Fairfax police said yesterday that 300 persons have come forth to say Welch may have stolen items from them. Police confiscated more than 3,200 items at Welch's home in Great Falls, Va., and 2,060 of those items have been identified by about 300 persons as things allegedly stolen from them.
The psychiatric examination of Welch, a 40-year-old escaped convict, was conducted at the jail after a government prosecutor said he was concerned that Welch might attempt to escape if he were taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where such psychiatric screenings routinely are done.
Welch's attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, had initially requested a full psychiatric examination that might have delayed his trial for up to two months. Judge Belson refused to grant the full evaluation Rosen requested, but instead ordered the preliminary screening Welch received Thursday. Rosen had indicated in court papers that Welch is considering pleading innocent by reason of insanity.
Rosen had said in court that "there was strong evidence to show that Mr. Welch allegedly had been involved in a series of compulsive acts that may have its roots in psychiatric problems."
Rosen stated in court papers that he was having some difficulty communicating with Welch and wanted a psychiatric evaluation regarding Welch's competency to participate in his own defense. Had the court psychiatrist found Welch incompetent to stand trial, a judge could have ordered a hearing to determine if Welch would even go to trial.
Evans' report, however, said that no "further psychiatric examination to determine competency" was necessary.
Neither Rosen nor Terry H. Russell, deputy director of the U.S. Attorneys Office for Superior Court, would comment on the mental evaluation. It is still possible that Welch's attorney might request further psychiatric tests at next week's hearing.
Yesterday in Alexandria, two of Welch's alleged victims filed suit in federal court asking more than $500,000 in damages from Welch and his common-law wife, Linda Sue Hamilton.
Robert and Lisa Freda of Rockville claimed that Welch took about $9,000 in jewelry and other valuables in a Nov. 16 burglary at the Freda home. Mrs. Freda recovered a little more than one-third of that when she joined scores of other victims searching for the belongings Saturday at Fairfax police headquarters.
The Fredas are suing for $5,500 worth of items they say they could not locate and for $500,000 in punitive damages for "severe and continuing mental and emotional distress" suffered as a result of the burglary, according to the suit.
The suit further contends that Welch and Hamilton put the title of their home in Hamilton's name in order to defraud potential creditors. The suit asks the court to declare that Welch is the owner of the home.
"Even if we won," Robert Freda said, "we wanted to make sure that there would be some assets to pay the damages."