Coronavirus risk prompts request to release Loudoun Co. double-murder suspect until trial

The lawyer for a Virginia man charged with the 2018 armed murders of an Aldie woman and her adult son has asked a circuit court judge to grant pretrial release to Brian Welsh, because of the "unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous nature of the COVID-19 pandemic."(Getty Images/iStockphoto/nirat)

The lawyer for a Virginia man charged with the 2018 armed murders of an Aldie woman and her adult son has asked a circuit court judge to grant pretrial release to Brian Welsh, citing the “unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The motion by defense attorney Thomas Walsh is the latest unusual turn in the case, in which Loudoun County prosecutors made the extraordinary request of requesting bond and pretrial monitoring.

Earlier, prosecutors had to drop charges when bullets recovered from the victims did not match Welsh’s gun.

Thirty-eight-year-old Brian Kuang-Ming Welsh was indicted last October on two counts of first-degree murder,  and two counts of the use of a gun in the commission of a felony, in the deaths of Mala Manwani, 65, and Rishi Manwani, 32.

In early March, prosecutors — as a speedy-trial deadline approached — joined the defense in asking Welsh be released with electronic GPS monitoring until his October trial. However, Judge James Fisher denied the request.

“In light of the violent nature of the alleged home invasion — double murder of the mother and son victims, who were each shot multiple times in the head, the accused’s liberty constitutes an unreasonable danger to himself or to the public,” Fisher ruled in early March.

Now, Walsh has asked the judge to consider the public health emergency connected with the coronavirus outbreak, since his initial ruling.

“The unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has become apparent,” Walsh wrote. “The magnitude of this risk has grown exponentially since the Court’s March 6, 2020 order.”

The potential for a serious problem is present, according to Walsh.

“Although there is not yet a known outbreak among the jail and prison populations, inmates may be at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 should an outbreak develop,” Walsh said.

He added that the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Loudoun County Detention Center have “admirably put transmission mitigation measures in place.”

Without referring to any specific cases, in a Sunday news conference with Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state’s correctional facilities.

Moran said transfers to state prisons from approximately 65 regional jails have been suspended, in an attempt to keep the virus out of the state facilities.

In his motion, Walsh wrote that “other local jurisdictions have taken a liberal approach to bail and the release of those facing charges in light of the pandemic that is occurring.”

In general, Moran addressed the issue of releasing inmates before trial: “The governor already gave guidance to our local jails and the entire criminal justice community for those low-level offenders who would be more properly cared for at home use electronic home monitoring, there are alternatives to incarceration.”

Moran said Northam’s request comes, in part, due to concerns raised by the local sheriff community: “They would like to make space in their jail so that in the event of someone who would contract the virus, they would have the opportunity to isolate that inmate.”

In an earlier motion, Loudoun County prosecutors acknowledged requesting bond and electronic monitoring for a defendant charged with two armed murders was “unusual,” but since they were backed into a corner by the speedy trial deadline, the alternative would be to dismiss the charges against Welsh, and reindict him.

Court records do not reflect whether Judge Fisher intends to hold a hearing before ruling on the defense’s latest motion.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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