COVID Concern Delays Double Murder Trial

A juror’s possible COVID-19 infection has delayed proceedings in the double murder trial of Brian Kuang-Ming Welsh until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

After 12 days of testimony, the jury Tuesday morning was set to hear closing arguments from Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Shara Krogh and Acting Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Barry Zweig, and Welsh’s defense counsel Thomas Walsh and Mark Petrovich.

However, Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher notified prosecutors and Welsh’s defense counsel that a family member of one of the 14 jurors had exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. That juror is expected to obtain a test for the virus as soon as possible. The trial will remain in recess until 10 a.m. Feb. 10.

Fisher also informed prosecutors and the defense that he had observed a separate juror often nodding off during the trial. Although that same juror emailed Fisher Monday night with concern of their inattentiveness, prosecutors and Welsh’s defense both agreed that the instance did not warrant any action on behalf of the court. Another juror informed Fisher the day after the voir dire jury-selection process on Jan. 21 that she felt she could not remain fair and impartial in the trial. She was excused from service.

This is the first jury trial since before the pandemic took hold last March. The trial is being heard in the county’s largest courtroom with rearranged furnishings that see jurors sitting six feet apart from each other in the area where the gallery typically is located, attorneys sitting where the jury box typically is located, and witnesses giving testimony in the center of the room. The general public has been watching the proceeding on closed-circuit television from the old courthouse building.

Welsh, 41, is charged with the Jan. 29, 2018 first-degree murders of Mala Manwani, who was found dead on the first floor of her Aldie home with four gunshot wounds in her head, and her adult son, Rishi Manwani, who was found dead with seven gunshot wounds in his head in the basement where he lived.

During the past three weeks, the jury has seen hundreds of pieces of evidence and heard testimony from dozens of individuals who were either involved with the investigation or knew the Manwanis or Welsh.

Welsh was initially arrested and charged with the murders in March 2018, but was released from jail when a ballistics report showed that bullets found at the crime scene did not match the barrel of the .22-caliber Browning Buck Mark handgun found at Welsh’s parents’ house in Locust Grove. Upon further analysis, investigators found that the marks on the shell casings matched the firing pin of that gun. Welsh was re-arrested in October 2019 and has been held at the county jail ever since.

The case Krogh and Zweig have been making against Welsh has relied predominantly on that new analysis. A ballistics specialist testified that the barrel on the Buck Mark, which Welsh handed off to his brother the day the Manwanis were shot, had been changed out.

Walsh asserted that “the commonwealth relies on a ballistics match” in its charges against Welsh. He said that ballistics evidence alone was not enough to instruct the jury on charges of first-degree murder.

Evidence has also shown that Welsh was at the Manwani’s home the morning of the shootings.

According to testimony and case documents, Welsh and Rishi had traveled to the bank together that morning and then had gone back to Rishi’s house, where Rishi paid Welsh back a $600 loan and sold him 20 prescription pills. Prosecutors presented evidence that the last unread text message on Rishi’s phone came in at 10:23 a.m. and the last time Mala’s co-workers heard from her was at 10:31 a.m.

Prosecutors have also relied on testimony that has portrayed Welsh as being unstable before the shootings and emotional afterward.

Cheri Hostetler, the human resources director for Learning Tree International, where Welsh had been working since 2016, testified the company fired Welsh six days before the shootings occurred for “attendance and performance” issues. Hostetler said that Welsh frequently was not at work and often fell asleep at his desk, and that the Learning Tree management team found knives in his desk a month before he was fired.

Hostetler said when she called Welsh to inform him of his termination, Welsh became emotional and told her, “you should be worried about me.”

Welsh’s acquaintance, Caitlin McCarthy, testified that when Welsh picked her up to go to Starbucks on Jan. 30, 2018, he seemed “panicked” and “anxious.”

Walsh has emphasized throughout the trial that Welsh was calm and collected in the hour after the Manwanis were shot dead.

Welsh’s mother testified that she spoke with her son at 10:58 a.m. the morning of Jan. 29, 2018 for about 10 minutes and that he did not sound rushed, confused, scared or panicked during their call. A job recruiter also recalled the phone conversation she had with Welsh that day because, she said, the interview went well and Welsh was memorable.

Walsh also pointed out through testimony from various witnesses that investigators found no urine or feces from Rishi’s dog in the house, two days after he and his mother were killed—raising the possibility that someone may have been in the house, and committed the shootings, during that time.

Both Dep. Gregory Thomas and Det. Alonzo Perry testified they did not see any such urine or feces in the home when investigating the scene Jan. 31, 2018. Thomas additionally testified that he noticed the television in the basement, where Rishi lived, was turned on when investigators arrived.

Another witness bolstered the idea that someone else could have committed the shootings by testifying that she saw a taller man with broad shoulders outside with Rishi’s dog in the days after Rishi and his mother were killed. Walsh emphasized that Welsh is a person of smaller stature.

Rishi’s longtime friend, Adam Masters, also testified that Rishi had scrapes and bruises on his face and was “seeming more nervous about things” in the days leading up to his death.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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