The widow of physician Michael Halberstam told a hushed D.C. Superior Court yesterday that her dying husband exclaimed, "That's the guy!" as he rammed his 1973 Chevrolet into the man he said had shot him -- Bernard C. Welch.
"I was holding on because I was afraid the car was going to flip over," a tearful Elliott Jones told the jury hearing the murder case against Welch. "I saw Michael hit him. I heard a thump. I saw a form falling."
Jones' dramatic recollection of her husband's identification of Welch, recounted in her deep Mississippi drawl, was the first key testimony at Welch's trial.
He is accused of shooting Halberstam, a noted author and cardiologist, at his Northwest Washington home last Dec. 5, when Halberstam walked into his house and surprised a burglar.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens said in his opening argument that another woman, other than Halberstam's widow, will testify that she saw Welch case Halberstam's exclusive Northwest Washington neighborhood on Dec. 5.
"[Welch] was calculating and cunning to commit the [burglary and murder] offenses charged," Stephens said, and came equipped with a flashlight, screwdriver, wiresnips, gloves, vinyl bags for the loot, and a .38-caliber pistol stolen from an FBI agent who lives in Virginia.
"He was prepared for every eventuality, except one," the prosecutor said. "He did not consider the eventuality of Dr. Halberstam. Two shots through his chest, and three more through his coat did not stop that man."
In a "last heroic act [Halberstam] himself marked for you his killer," the prosecutor charged.
Welch, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, sat silently twirling a pen in his mouth and often stared in Jones' direction as she testified. When she entered the courtroom, Jones eagerly scanned the defense table until her eyes rested on Welch. During her 90 minutes of testimony, she often looked back at the man accused of killing her husband.
Jones is the government's key witness and she talked at length about her husband's last words, words which Welch's attorney, Sol Z. Rosen, unsuccessfully tried to keep from the nine-woman, three-man jury because they are the only identification made of Welch by the dying doctor.
"I heard Michael's voice," Jones said of their return to their home on Battery Place NW."I noticed no lights in the house. I saw Michael standing between the dining room and the living room area.
"'Elliott, there's someone in the house,' he said. He was standing straight and staring at a back wall, where there was nothing . . . I stopped to see if I heard what he was hearing.
"Then I heard someone say, 'Lie down or I'll blow your f------ head off," Jones recalled. "I thought for a moment that I had the radio on. I thought it was a mystery program.
"It wasn't until Michael actually began to lie down on his stomach that the realization came through to me."
Jones said that when she heard the threat repeated, she too lay down. "It was a very firm and clear voice. I knew right away that it was a white man's voice, and that it was not a young person or an old man's voice. Each word was very clear."
At that point, Jones, who often spoke directly to the jury instead of the lawyers questioning her, gave a demonstration, practically placing her face down on the witness stand in front of her. Jones said she then saw her husband get up and run into the hallway. "Suddenly I heard these shots . . . I heard, Michael cursing. 'Goddamn it. Hell.'
"I heard him holler, 'Elliott, help me! Elliott, help me!' There he was facing toward me, he had blood -- a big circle of blood on his shirt.
"'Oh baby, you've been hurt,' I said."
With Halberstam at the wheel and Jones by his side honking the horn, the couple sped toward Sibley Hospital.
"[My husband] never said anything to me again, from "That's the guy'," Jones said, recalling her husband aiming the car at the man he claimed had shot him. She said her husband seemed in control as he drove toward Sibley. Jones said she repeatedly asked her husband to let her drive, but he did not respond.
At the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Loughboro Road NW, Halberstam failed to make the final turn towards the hospital. "Baby, you missed the turn," Jones recalled saying. "Back up." But that was when she noticed Halberstam losing consciousness and their car crashed into a tree.
Jones said she ran into Sibley, where Halberstam had treated patients, yelling, "My husband's been shot. We've been in a crash. He's Michael Halberstam." By the time she returned with a doctor, an ambulance had already arrived on the crash scene and Halberstam was taken to the hospital.
Jones broke down only once during her testimony, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexia Morrison asked her to describe when she next saw Halberstam. "The next time I saw Michael," Jones replied, "he was dead."
Jones said she later was taken to an ambulance parked near the hospital where police asked her to identify an injured man lying inside. That man was Welch, whom police had picked up as he was hiding behind a planter near where Halberstam's car had hit him.
"That's him, that's the son of a bitch . . ." Jones recalled saying.
Rosen attached the identification, saying it was unduly suggestive and violated Welch's constitutional rights. However, the presiding judge at the trial, Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I, rejected the defense attorney's claim.
During cross-examination, Rosen pressed Jones on her recollection of the shooting.
Had she seen Welch's face in her house? the defense attorney asked.
"No," she said.
"Did you see anyone shoot your husband?" Rosen inquired.
"No," Jones replied.
"Did you see anyone run from the house?"
Rosen did not make an opening statement to the jury, reserving the right to do so later. Welch has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, but has not explained why he was in Halberstam's neighborhood on the night of the killing. He admitted in a recent interview with a Washington Post reporter that he was hit by Halberstam's car.
Moultrie also ruled against Rosen's request that charges relating to the murder of Halberstam be separated from the burglary charges. The judge also refused to suppress the evidence seized by police from Welch's Great Falls, Va., home and his car because the woman with whom Welch lived, Linda Susan Hamilton, had given her consent to the searches.
Moultrie also ruled that Mamie Stallworth, a woman employed by one of Halberstam's neighbors and the second witness referred to by Stephens, may testify for the prosecution. In testimony, out of the jury's presence, she said she twice saw a man in the neighborhood the day of the shooting. She said she later saw the same man in a police lineup. The man was Welch, prosecutors said. CAPTION:
Picture, Elliott Jones, accompanied by friend Stephen Banker, leaves D.C. Superior Court after testifying about her husband's death. By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post Illustration, Elliott Jones describes her husband's last hours as Judge H. Carl Moultrie I listens. By Peggy Gate for The Washington Post