To his friends and family members, William Welsh is first and foremost a World War II veteran who, years after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, made special efforts to help neighbors and to care for his children and grandchildren.
To the family of William Menni, he is the man who left a “crater” in their lives when he fatally shot Mr. Menni, the father of two sons and husband of a woman who continues to struggle with ovarian cancer.
“There are two families that I believe are seriously impacted, if not destroyed. Nevertheless, it was the actions of Mr. Welsh that set all this tragedy in motion,” Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Thomas E. Flaherty said Thursday before he ordered 90-year-old Welsh to spend six to 12 years in prison.
Welsh, who appeared frail as he sat in a wheelchair during his sentencing, killed Mr. Menni, 58, of McKees Rocks, last year, following months of tension between the two over the demolition of a house across the street from Welsh’s funeral home in Homestead.
Jason Menni, 19, visited his father at the construction site July 26, 2013. He left briefly. When he returned 18 minutes later, an ambulance was there.
“My last visual image was my father lying there, a row of blood flowing from his body. I tried to wake him up, even though that was impossible,” Jason Menni said.
He called his mother, Jody, and older brother, Jason, and told them William Menni had been shot. Both responded with, “What do you mean?”
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper arrived shortly afterward. She said she received a call from the Homestead police chief that afternoon telling her there had been a fatal shooting. She asked who did it.
“The last name I expected to hear is Bill Welsh,” Ms. Esper testified. She said she asked Welsh, through tears, “What the hell?” and he responded, “Where were you when I needed you?”
Defense attorney Michael Machen argued unsuccessfully that the charges against his client should be thrown out. He said that psychiatrists had not been consulted to help evaluate Welsh’s state of mind during the shooting and that it occurred so quickly that Welsh did not have a “cooling off” period needed to calm down before making the decision to shoot Mr. Menni twice.
It was an argument that Assistant District Attorney Michael Berquist disagreed with, noting that before the shooting Welsh walked out of his house, across the street and up a flight of stairs before he made it to the parking lot where he shot Mr. Menni.
Alexander Schultz, an attorney and friend of Welsh’s, said his short-term memory “is rapidly fading.” He said he visited Welsh in jail for about an hour in July and it took Welsh about 20 minutes to recall that Mr. Schultz had attended his trial, which ended with a guilty verdict April 11.
“His memory is regressing to World War II,” Mr. Schultz said.
Welsh spoke briefly, saying, “I accept responsibility and am sorry for the pain that I have caused the Menni family.”
Mr. Menni’s mother, Kathryn, said her son “wasn’t perfect” but worked hard to ensure that his family was cared for. “I’ll never go to heaven,” she said, “because you have to forgive people, and I’ll never forgive William Welsh.”
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published July 31, 2014 12:00 AM