Police dubbed him "the master thief" and called him a "one-man crime wave," this tall, cocky fugitive from a New York prison -- Bernard Charles Welch Jr.
He eluded police across the country for seven years, and allegedly plucked silver and jewels from hundreds of homes around the nation's capital. He melted down some of his booty in the garage of his sprawling suburban home and sent if off to a California refinery.
On Dec. 5, he shot physician Michael J. Halberstam during an attempted burglary at Halberstam's home, and then, in a jail cell interview, blamed Halberstam for detroying his life.
It was one of the most publicized slayings here in recent years, and Welch reveled in the publicity. He sought even more. He sold Life magazine eight of his personal snapshots for $1,000 each. He arranged for a New York crime writer to pen his life story. His lawyer dreamed that Robert DeNiro would portray his client in a movie about Welch's life.
But by the end of his five-day trial Friday afternoon, it was apparent that the master thief had not a master defense. He left a surprisingly easy trail for prosecutors to follow. Police found silver and gold engraved with identifying marks from the homes they were stolen from in the trunk of Welch's car. There was also a stolen copy of Money magazine with the subscriber's address still on the cover.
The bullets that killed Halberstam were traced to a revolver found near Welch when he was arrested. The gun had been stolen from the home of an FBI agent, and stolen pictures of the agent's children were found in Welch's Great Falls, Va., home.
There was no eyewitness to the shooting, but Welch was swiftly convicted after less than two hours of deliberation. Barring a successful appeal, Welch is likely to spend at least the next 20 years of his life at Lorton, the District's state prison.
"The things he did are no marvels," Halberstam's widow, Elliott Jones, said of Welch after the trial. "All of us here, if we had no morals and no conscience and no love for our fellow human beings, we could have done what he did with a screwdriver."
The Halberstam killing -- coming shortly after several other handgun killings in the District and just before musician John Lennon's slaying in New York -- served as a catalyst for renewed debate among city and national officials over tighter controls on handguns.
It also led to one of the most spectacular displays of allegedly stolen goods in recent area history. Police confiscated an estimated $4 million in jewelry, silverware, and other valuable objects from Welch's home, and hundreds of persons stood in line for hours to identify items they thought had been stolen from their homes.
Much of that activity had died down by Friday, when Welch was convicted in D.C. Superior Court on 11 charges, including first-degree premeditated murder, burglary, grand larceny, and carrying a pistol without a license.
Welch could be sentenced to life prison terms for each of the convictions -- including the handgun charge because he is a three-time convicted felon in New York.
Welch is to be sentenced on the 11 most recent convictions May 22. But he faces a plethora of criminal charges in Virginia. In Fairfax, he is charged with rape, maiming, eight bulgaries and a firearms violation. In Arlington, he is charged with 18 counts of burglarly and larceny. In Alexandria, he is charged with three counts of buglary and grand larceny. In addition, he faces a New York fugitive charge.
The story of the somewhat anticlimactic end of the Welch trial is perhaps best told through the players themselves: Welch, defense attorney Sol Z. Rosen, the prosecutors who tried the case and the jurors themselves.
Welch, 40 years old, regularly clean shaven and always wearing a suit and tie, exuded confidence throughout most of the trial, twirling a pen in his mouth, smiling at some of the female witnesses, constantly leaning over to advise Rosen on defense tactics. It was only in the final days that Welch began to bite his finely manicured fingernails, and look drawn and worried.
He did not take the stand in his own defense and said nothing to the jury throughout the trial.
He entrusted his defense to Sol Z. Rosen, a pudgy, 45-year-old, Brooklyn-born lawyer who has been picking up cases at the Superior Court for years.
Rosen has been referred to as the "King of the Fifth Streeters" because of the huge number of indigent defendants he represents. After Rosen took home $70,000 in federal payments for such representations in 1971, a law was passed setting a ceiling on the amount a lawyer could earn from court-appointed cases.
For weeks the tough-talking, stern-faced Rosen gave interviews to local television stations, describing his strategy and promising a strong defense. He spoke freely with such national publications as People magazine when it featured Welch, and was disappointd when he saw the final version failed to mention his own name.
Courtroom artists know Rosen as the lawyer who always is willing to step aside so they can get a good view of a defendant -- or Rosen himself. And Rosen regularly inspects their work.
Many times in the middle of the Welch proceedings, Rosen detoured on his way to the defense table in order to pass by the first row of spectator seats where the artists sat, regularly turning his head to examine their illustrations of him.
During the trial, Rosen did not present an alibi for Welch's whereabouts during the time Halberstam was murdered, but only for the hours preceding the shooting. The lawyer placed much of his emphasis on trying, in vain, to discredit the pillars of the government's case, such as the identifications of Welch by Halberstam's widow and a neighbor's maid.
"It wasn't tough," one juror, who declined to be identified, said of Rosen's defense strategy. "We wanted to give it some thought, but there wasn't no sense in having a long deliberation, because we knew . . . it was all over."
Several jurors credited the performance of prosecutors Jay B. Stephens and Alexia Morrison with playing a major role in the outcome of the case. "Excellent," said jury foreman John Witherspoon of the government's presentation. He said he was particularly impressed with Morrison, a senior assistant U.S. attorney who has not tried a case in 18 months.
Morrison, whose husband is Superior Court Judge Robert Shuker (an occasional spectator at the trial), virtually chanted her way sermon-like through closing arguments, echoing Halberstam's dying words:
"That's the guy . . . that's the guy," and pointing repeatedly at Welch.
"Man, that girl's tough," said jury foreman Witherspoon. "She ain't playing."
In the aftermath of the shooting, Elliott Jones, Halberstam's widow, was prominently quoted in the news media. Less prominent in the media but a regular at the trial was Linda Mendelson, Halberstam's first wife, who faithfully attended every day along with their two teen-aged sons, Charles and Eben.
She said she was "happy" but "shaky" at the outcome of the trial, and was especially happy for the two Halberstam sons. It showed them that the criminal justice system worked, she said, but added, "Nothing can bring their dad back."