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Judge allows Ryan Welch, Easthampton, to act as his own attorney in upcoming murder trial

Ryan D. Welch



GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Ryan D. Welch GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By BOB DUNN @BDGazette
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
(Published in print: Wednesday, September 4, 2013)

Welch, 37, is charged in connection with the February 2012 death of Jessica Ann Pripstein in Easthampton. The two had been involved in a romantic relationship. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 21.

Welch told Hampshire Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford he no longer had confidence that his court-appointed lawyer, Paul Rudof, was acting in his best interests.

Welch said Rudof was only pursuing a defense strategy of determining the amount of criminal responsibility Welch may have had in connection with Pripstein’s death. Welch said that strategy comes at the expense of presenting evidence that he did not commit the crime.

“I did not and could not have killed Jessica Pripstein,” Welch said in court Tuesday. “What concerns me, if this is something I didn’t do at all, that needs to be my primary line of defense.”

Welch also accused the Northwestern district attorney’s office of “bungling” the investigation by not pursuing theories other than the one that he is solely responsible for Pripstein’s death.

Welch called the work by the district attorney’s office “appalling,” and claimed two witnesses who would have testified in his defense were “intimidated” into not doing so by investigators.

Before granting the request, Ford interviewed Welch in court to determine if he was competent to represent himself and whether he was aware of the responsibilities and consequences of doing so.

Welch admitted to having a history of mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also said his OCD was so bad that he would sometimes need to get intoxicated just to take a shower and even then it would take anywhere from one to three hours to complete.

Welch said he is being treated with medication which does not cloud his thinking or judgement.

Welch told Ford he understood he only has limited knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures, but wanted to go forward as his own attorney regardless.

“I don’t recommend it,” Ford said before granting the motion. “I think you’re making a mistake.”

On Aug. 16, Rudof was unsuccessful in his attempt to have himself removed from the case, citing what he called an “irreconcilable breakdown” in the relationship between him and Welch.

Rudof, who Ford assigned as Welch’s stand-by counsel, said Tuesday he still feels the relationship is broken, but accepted the assignment.

He said Welch should go to trial “with a lawyer he trusts. For whatever reason, that isn’t me.”

Public defender Dana Goldblatt, who has been assisting Rudof with the case, will be standby co-counsel.

In court Tuesday, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said Welch’s request to represent himself may be a tactic to delay the trial.

And while Ford is allowing Welch to represent himself, he did not change Oct. 21 trial date.

A hearing was set for Monday at 2 p.m. in Greenfield before Judge Bertha Josephson to determine the scope of Rudof’s role as stand-by counsel. Josephson is assigned to preside over the trial in Hampshire County when it begins.

Welch was arrested after police responding to Pripstein’s 911 call Feb. 20, 2012, said they found her lying in a pool of blood in her apartment on Ward Avenue in Easthampton.

Welch was also in the apartment, bleeding from a neck wound that police said was self-inflicted. He told police he had found Pripstein’s body in the apartment and was so distraught he attempted to kill himself by slitting his throat.

Outside the courtroom, Bucci said, “We stand ready for trial. The evidence hasn’t changed.”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.