Funeral home owner, 90, found guilty of third-degree murder

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William Welsh looked small and frail as he sat behind the defense counsel table.

He wore large glasses and black headphones to amplify the words being said. He also read along as those words appeared on a screen in front of him, courtesy of the court reporter.

And when Common Pleas Judge Thomas E. Flaherty announced that Mr. Welsh, 90, was guilty of third-degree murder, he showed no reaction at all.

The judge ordered the man's bond to be revoked, and sheriff's deputies helped Mr. Welsh stand up before helping him back down into the wheelchair they used to take him away.

He will be sentenced on June 5 and faces a mandatory sentence of at least five years in prison. The maximum penalty for third-degree murder is 20-40 years.

"Anything for a 90-year-old man could be a potential life sentence," said defense attorney Frank Walker.

Mr. Welsh was found guilty in the July 26 shooting death of William Menni, 58, of McKees Rocks.

The two had been friends for 20 years, and Mr. Menni had worked for Mr. Welsh at his funeral home in Homestead.

But in the months leading up to the shooting, according to testimony, the men had a falling out.

Mr. Menni was overseeing the demolition of a house across the street from the funeral home, and Mr. Welsh did not like how it was being handled.

Mr. Walker presented testimony throughout the trial that Mr. Menni had threatened Mr. Welsh, as well as members of his family for several weeks over the dispute.

But around noon on July 26, as Mr. Menni worked at the job site, Mr. Welsh took his .380-caliber handgun, traversed the area from the funeral home -- and his residence -- to the parking lot, climbed 10 stairs to the job site, and police said, confronted Mr. Menni.

Then he fired two shots into the man's neck.

Mr. Welsh then told a witness to "Go ahead and call the ... police. I don't care what you do," and then went back to his home to wait for the authorities.

Mr. Walker tried to claim self-defense during the non-jury trial.

But Judge Flaherty said there was no threat to Mr. Welsh that afternoon.

"Mr. Welsh, tragically, put himself in this situation," the judge said in rendering his verdict. "I don't think he was confronted with death or deadly force."

Assistant district attorney Michael Berquist had argued in favor of first-degree murder, saying that the eyewitness heard the first shot and then saw Mr. Welsh fire a second shot when Mr. Menni was already down on the ground.

But Judge Flaherty said he believed both shots were fired while the victim was standing up and said he did not believe Mr. Welsh had the specific intent to kill required for first-degree murder.

Mr. Walker said he thought his client, who will likely be housed in a geriatric unit within the state prison system after he is sentenced, had a good chance for self-defense.

Following the verdict, the attorney spoke briefly with Mr. Welsh.

"He understands the judge's decision," Mr. Walker said. "He didn't agree with it, but he understands there are consequences."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published April 11, 2014 2:46 PM


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