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Accused murderer Ryan Welch claims DA’s office made up evidence; standby attorney withdraws

Welch, 37, of Easthampton, is representing himself in connection with the February 2012 slaying of Jessica Pripstein.

Also at Monday’s hearing, Welch accused Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci of having to fabricate evidence to make his case against him.

“I feel Mr. Bucci needs to lie to make a good portion of his case,” Welch said in Franklin Superior Court Monday.

Welch suggested in court, based on that accusation, he may seek criminal charges of his own against prosecutors.

Specifically, Welch said he disputes claims in court files that entrances into Pripstein’s home were blocked when police arrived about two minutes after a frantic 911 call from Pripstein was cut off. During that call, she allegedly claimed her boyfriend was trying to kill her.

Welch also disputed claims of prior threats against Pripstein that are being used as evidence against him.

Pripstein and Welch were involved in a romantic relationship at the time of her death, according to court records.

When police entered Pripstein’s apartment on Ward Avenue in Easthampton on Feb. 20, 2012, they found her lying in a pool of blood. She died from sharp-force trauma to the neck, according to court records.

Welch was also found 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, according to court records.

Last week, Welch was deemed competent to represent himself at trial by Judge Daniel A. Ford, against the judge’s advice.

Rudof, who had already filed one motion to withdraw from the case in August due to a breakdown of trust and communication with his client, was assigned as standby counsel when Welch was allowed to represent himself.

Welch said Monday that Rudof was not providing access to all of the evidence in his case and was not pursuing the theory that someone else committed the crime to his satisfaction.

Rudof has cited the breakdown between himself and Welch at several pre-trial hearings. He said last week Welch should go to trial, “with a lawyer he trusts. For whatever reason, that isn’t me.”

Welch has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in connection with Pripstein’s death and said at an earlier hearing that he “did not and could not have” killed her.

Now, with Rudof officially off the case, new standby counsel will have to be appointed, said Judge Bertha Josephson who presided over Monday’s hearing and is scheduled to be the judge when Welch is tried in Hampshire County. Monday’s hearing was held in Greenfield to accommodate Josephson’s schedule.

Josephson said she hopes a new counsel is appointed by the end of next week.

After the hearing, Bucci said he hopes to still be able to bring the case to trial in October, as scheduled, but the appointment of new counsel may make that difficult.

Bucci said there are about 7,000 pages of discovery evidence that need to be reviewed by the lawyer assigned to take over for Rudof.

Bucci said the trial was expected to last about three weeks, but if Welch pursues a defense strategy based on a third-party culprit theory, that could add another week of testimony due to more witnesses and more cross-examination on the part of the prosecution.

Bucci also filed motions asking that Welch be restricted from approaching witnesses while on the stand, requiring him to question them from a podium only, and that he not be allowed to handle any of the physical evidence in the case.

Josephson did not immediately rule on those motions.

If convicted, Welch faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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

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