From the moment they walked into a small basement jury room to begin their deliberations, the jurors in the murder trial of Bernard C. Welch had no doubt that Welch had killed cardiologist Michael Halberstam. But before they announced their verdict, the jurors wanted to hold the .38-caliber revolver that was used to kill the doctor.
"We took the gun out, pulled the trigger three or four times," said jury foreman John Witherspoon, a bulky 57-year-old government printer known to his fellow jurors as "Big John."
"I've never held a gun in my life, I never have," Witherspoon said in an interview last night. "It was really easy . . . Then we went for the vote." i
Witherspoon described a jury that grew close during the weeklong Welch trial, greatly admired the prosecutors, "mourned" Dr. Halberstam and gave their hearts to his widow, Elliott Jones.
As for Welch, Witherspoon at first declined to comment, then said, "That damn fool shot him, the sucker."
Some of the jurors all of whom had been sequestered in a hotel for more than a week, were anxious to go home, but others were determined not to be rushed into announcing a decision.
On the lunch line yesterday, Witherspoon said: "I was telling one of the ladies, 'They want to do the thing fast and get home.' I said, 'It's not the thing we want to do.' One of the ladies said, 'You're right, we'll stay here and do this thing.'"
Witherspoon said the jurors were particularly impressed with how well Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jay B. Stephens and Alexia Morrison had put together their case. "She's mean," he said of Morrison, praising her tough demeanor. "If a man goes before her, he's in trouble. She did her homework . . . Both of them did."
After about 30 minutes of talking among themselves, Witherspoon said the jurors were ready to vote on each of the 11 charges against Welch -- including first-degree murder.
"I told them we don't want no foolishness . . ." Witherspoon said. "Everybody wanted to go home . . . To me it was not important [to go home]. I said, 'We are here, we're going to vote. We're going to talk about it. I don't give a damn how long it takes.'"
Witherspoon said he read the charges aloud, one by one. Then the jurors took a vote on each of the 11 counts, and each raised a hand in favor of a guilty verdict. Then Witherspoon suggested they do it one more time," so there was no doubt in anybody's mind . . . because that man's up there for dear life, more or less."
Then one of the jurors told Witherspoon to read the charges yet a third time, slower. "I said, 'Oh my God, we're going to do it again.'"
Each time they voted, Witherspoon said, all hands went up at the same time, without hesitation, in favor of the guilty verdict. "The main thing was," Witherspoon said, "we went home, knowing we had done our jobs, done what we were supposed to do."