Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, his bald head bowed, Lloyd Welch was back in a Virginia courtroom Thursday to admit to his crimes. This time, he had to face his victims.
“I was once a carefree, loving, trusting, confident and secure child,” a 30-year-old Delaware woman said, staring at Welch 10 feet away. “Then one day that all changed.”
Welch molested her in 1996, days before her ninth birthday.
The second woman, whom Welch sexually assaulted on a houseboat when she was 6, didn’t look at Welch so much as talk about him as if the 60-year-old weren’t there.
“He is the dirt I walk on every day,” said the woman, now 28.
A week earlier, Welch had pleaded guilty in an even older and certainly more well-known case: the long-ago abductions and murders of Katherine and Sheila Lyon, last seen at the Wheaton Plaza shopping mall north of Washington in 1975.
In the Lyon hearing, it was the family of the sisters — their parents, both 77, and their two brothers — who were in court, sitting in the front.
They had waited 42 years to see someone held to account for the murders of the girls, 10 and 12, who, before they disappeared, had walked to the mall to see friends, eat lunch and look at Easter decorations.
Welch never looked at the Lyon family and did not apologize to them.
On Thursday, to the sex assault victims who confronted him through their court statements, he spoke briefly.
“I’d like to apologize to both these young ladies,” Welch told the Prince William County circuit judge. “I did not mean to do any harm to them. I am very sorry.”
His plea hearing, during which Welch pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual battery, ended the pair of cases that had become important to the resolution of the Lyon sisters mystery.
In 2013, cold-case detectives in Montgomery County looking through old Lyon sisters case files found Welch's name on a report written in 1975. They researched what he had been up to since leaving Maryland, learned that he was in prison in Delaware and went to see him more than 10 times.
The detectives also interviewed people who knew Welch through the years. They heard about other possible crimes, including the 1996 sexual assaults in Prince William County. The detectives spoke with the two victims and found them credible. Welch was indicted in the Prince William cases in 2016 and this year.
The indictments played a role as Welch finally admitted guilt in the Lyon sisters killings, because his attorneys and prosecutors negotiated a global plea and 48-year sentence to close all of the outstanding cases.
And while that sentence means Welch will almost certainly die in prison, the deal offered him an end to uncertainty.
“Mr. Welch is relieved to have all these matters resolved and behind him,” his attorney in Prince William, John Irving, said Thursday.
For detectives and prosecutors who have investigated Welch for four years, the guilty pleas Thursday underscored what they had long believed about Welch: He engaged in a decades-long crime wave.
“It’s pretty clear this guy is a pedophile, and a dangerous one,” Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said. “And he should never be on the streets again.”
As a youth, Welch stopped attending school after the eighth grade, regularly used drugs, ran away from home, and was in and out of foster care, according to court records.
In 1975, when Welch was 18, he took part in the abduction of the Lyon sisters, knowing there were others who intended to exploit them sexually. The girls were held captive, abused and murdered, according to authorities. Welch drove the remains of at least one to a rural mountain in Bedford County, Va., where he tossed them into a fire, prosecutors say.
But no one at the time, including Welch, was charged in the case.
He went on to commit other crimes in Maryland, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina and Delaware, according to court records and law enforcement officials. He eventually received a long prison sentence in 1998 in Delaware for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl whom he knew.
Detectives spoke with the Delaware victim, who told them that Welch had earlier molested her in Prince William County in 1996. That was one of the cases in which Welch pleaded guilty Thursday.
Speaking in court, the victim recalled how Welch had devastated her as a child and took away her loving and trusting nature. But in defiant tones, she looked directly at Welch and described how she rose from those depths.
“That scared, untrusting child has become a strong, secure and successful woman,” she said, telling Welch how she had graduated from high school and college, married a “wonderful man,” had a child and recently bought her first home.
“So if you remember anything from today,” she told Welch, “let it come from me: Checkmate, I win!”
Detectives on the Lyon sisters case also investigated the account of a woman who was 6 years old when Welch attacked her in her sleep on the houseboat. In court Thursday, she said that the assault by Welch, whom she had known as a child, left her fearful of being alone with men. As a teenager, she said, she was terrified he might show up unexpectedly, perhaps at her job.
"It has impacted my life . . . to this day," she said in court.
Under the plea agreement, Welch received a 12-year sentence in the sexual assault cases that was folded into the 48-year term handed down in the Lyon sisters case.
Ebert, the Prince William prosecutor, said 12 years concurrent to other sentences is shorter than he typically accepts in such cases. But Ebert said the plea agreement helped secure a sentence that would in effect imprison Welch for his life.
"With the whole package, I think justice is being served," Ebert said.
Before beginning the 48 years in Virginia, Welch must finish his prison sentence in Delaware.
Depending on his behavior and accomplishments behind bars, he could be released in Delaware in about 2024, when he is 67, and then start the Virginia term.
Virginia abolished parole years ago, but it remains in place for crimes committed before 1995 under a provision that grandfathered in those cases. Under those rules, according to Virginia’s Parole Board Policy Manual, many convicts can become eligible for parole consideration after serving a quarter of their sentence.
But someone with Welch’s criminal past would have a very difficult time winning parole, said Adrianne Bennett, chair of the Virginia Parole Board.
“The reality is I don’t think any parole board would release someone who has done what he’s done,” Bennett added.
Going to trial in the Lyon sisters' murders was risky for Welch, who had admitted repeatedly to detectives that he had abducted the girls from the mall, said Tony Anderson, one of his attorneys.
In the Lyon sisters case, Welch never admitted to murdering either girl, but under the felony murder doctrine, because he had participated in their abductions, he was responsible for the murders as well.