Lawyer for murder suspect Ryan Welch of Easthampton moves to have evidence against his client suppressed
SPRINGFIELD — The attorney for murder suspect Ryan Welch is seeking to have portions of his client’s statements to police and other evidence suppressed in the case against him.
Northampton lawyer Paul Rudof said notes Welch wrote to medical staff while he was unable to speak, blood evidence collected from his hands and information about his medical history were seized without proper warrants.
Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, prosecuting the case, said even if all of Rudof’s motions to suppress are allowed, the state will proceed to trial against Welch, based on the strength of its case.
Welch, 37, of Easthampton, has pleaded not guilty to the Feb. 20 slaying of his girlfriend, Jessica Ann Pripstein, 39.
Rudof argued before Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder in Hampden Superior Court that in addition to the improperly seized evidence, Welch was not adequately informed of his rights when he was arrested, that statements he gave while hospitalized were not voluntary and his right to remain silent while questioned was not honored.
Welch was hospitalized at Baystate Medical Center after he was discovered, barely conscious and bleeding from a large neck wound, by police who responded to a 911 call from Pripstein allegedly saying her boyfriend was trying to kill her. The call was abruptly cut off.
Police arrived shortly after the call and discovered Pripstein dead. They found Welch, who had allegedly barricaded himself in the apartment and cut his own throat before they arrived.
While Welch was hospitalized for treatment of the wound to his neck, he was unable to communicate verbally due to a breathing tube, according to testimony in court Monday.
Rudof said that despite passing cognitive tests, Welch was in a great deal of physical pain and too disoriented from medications to be aware if the statements he was giving to police were voluntary.
Rudof said Monday that at one point during his hospitalization Welch told investigators it would be at least another day before he’d be able to respond to questions regarding Pripstein’s death.
Massachusetts State Police Detective John Riley testified that he interpreted Welch’s statement as the amount of time he’d need before he could physically speak, not as a refusal to be interviewed by police.
Riley further testified that he didn’t seize blood on Welch’s hands as evidence prior to his arrest, but instead asked medical staff to not remove the blood, in case it would need to be collected later and only if it could be preserved without compromising medical procedures.
Rudof also argued that Riley neglected to read aloud the portion of Welch’s Miranda rights that states he is entitled to an attorney when he was placed under arrest in his hospital room Feb. 22.
On the stand, Riley clarified that he omitted the portion about having a court-appointed lawyer assigned if Welch could not afford one, but left the part about his right to have an attorney present during questioning intact.
Bucci said by telephone Monday that privacy guarantees of medical information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) do not apply in this case, because the information being sought was for purposes outside the course of medical treatment.
Bucci also argued for the release of Welch’s phone records from calls made while he’s been held without the right to bail at the Hampshire Jail and House of Correction.
Rudof countered that while a portion of Welch’s calls may have evidentiary value, asking for all of them amounted to a “fishing expedition.”
About eight witnesses made up of members of the Easthampton Police Department and troopers assigned to the DA’s office testified at the 3½-hour hearing.
Kinder did not rule on the motions Monday. He took them under advisement and will rule on a later date.
The hearing is continued until Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. pending the availability of a witness for the state, Bucci said.
Bucci said that witness will be able to testify to the types and amounts of medications Welch was taking and their potential effects on him.