Thursday, May 29, 2003

Man admits one slaying, not two

Defendant says he killed longtime friend 'after he was shooting my wife'

By Kate Roberts
The Associated Press

DELAWARE, Ohio - A man accused of killing his wife and a longtime friend told jurors he saw his wife fall after being shot, then a flash of red flannel as what he thought was an intruder came after him.

"I did kill Lonnie Welch after he was shooting my wife," Gerald Hand told a jury in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. "I can't explain why. I feel like I'd do it again if I could."

Prosecutors say Hand killed Walter "Lonnie" Welch to shut him up about the deaths of Hand's first two wives, Donna Hand, 27, and Lori Hand, 21. Both were found dead in the basement of the same Columbus house three years apart in the 1970s.

Hand testified that on Jan. 15, 2002, Jill Hand was boiling a chicken for stock and he was leaving the bathroom "when all hell broke loose."

Hand, known as "Bobby," said he heard his wife saying, "Gerald, Gerald," the name she used only when she was angry or upset.

"I heard a couple of shots. I saw my wife go down," he said.

All he saw was red flannel and black coming out of the kitchen. He reached for a gun and was able to grab both guns that were on a dresser.

"I was just shooting. He wasn't going down."

Asked by defense attorney Terry Sherman if he killed Jill Hand, he replied: "Absolutely not."

Hand, 54, is charged with killing his 58-year-old wife and Welch, a longtime friend and former employee, at the couple's home in southern Delaware County, north of Columbus.

Prosecutors say Hand, deeply in debt, plotted with his friend to kill Jill Hand to collect proceeds from life-insurance policies and other death benefits. He also stood to inherit Mrs. Hand's house.

Defense attorneys said Hand shot Welch, 55, in self-defense, believing he was an intruder, and that no wrongdoing has been proved.

Hand is charged with aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and escape. If convicted of the aggravated murder charges, he could be sentenced to death.

In court, he denied having anything to do with any of his wives' deaths.

Hand testified Tuesday that many of the credit-protection death benefits prosecutors listed, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, covered him and not his wife.

He also denied the testimony of a former cellmate who said Hand told him he killed Welch for trying to change the terms of the arrangement for killing Jill Hand.

Kenneth Grimes, who had been jailed with Hand in Delaware County, testified earlier that Hand told him he arrived home to find Welch threatening Jill with a gun, and demanding that Gerald Hand double his $25,000 fee for killing her.

Questioned by prosecutors, Hand conceded there was no physical evidence of the gun battle in the hallway of his house that he had described to police.

He said he wasn't sure that Welch was shooting at him and never saw a gun. "I assumed he was shooting at me," Hand said.

The man turned and Hand followed him outside, still shooting, Hand testified. The man started zigzagging through the yard and stumbled on the driveway, falling about five or 10 feet away from Hand.

A forensics expert had testified earlier that the final shot was fired from within three feet.

Hand crawled back toward the house, then walked inside and called 911.

He told the 911 operator his wife was turning blue. He was told to try to find pulse and he couldn't.

"My wife was just laying there," he said.

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