Friday, May 9, 2003

Prosecutor: Defendant's past includes 'three murdered wives'

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

DELAWARE, Ohio - A man charged with killing his wife and a longtime friend had more than $200,000 in credit card debt in the months before her death and stood to benefit from life insurance policies he had on her, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.

After killing Jill Hand, Gerald Hand then killed Walter "Lonnie" Welch to shut him up about the deaths of Hand's two previous wives, Prosecutor David Gormley said in opening statements in Hand's trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.

Hand, 54, is accused in the deaths of his fourth wife, Jill, 58, and Welch on Jan. 15, 2002. He is charged with two counts each of aggravated murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. If convicted of the aggravated murder charges, he could be sentenced to death.

Hand told police he shot an intruder, who turned out to be Welch, after the intruder shot his wife in the couple's home in southern Delaware County north of Columbus.

Welch's body was found in a neighbor's driveway; he had been shot several times, including what was likely a final shot in the back, Gormley said.

Gormley also said Welch helped Gerald Hand kill his first two wives in the 1970s.

Gormley said evidence shows that Hand's past included "three murdered wives, a decade-long association with Lonnie Welch, very serious financial problems and very high amounts of life insurance on his wife."

By killing Welch, Hand "could eliminate a man who knew too much about the defendant's murderous past," Gormley said.

Gormley presented evidence Thursday that Hand ran up debts on 33 credit cards, including at least two he used to pay life insurance premiums on his wife, Jill, five days before she was shot.

Hand listened quietly during the opening day of the trial, occasionally consulting with his two attorneys.

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