Murder suspect loses motion to fire lawyer

NORTHAMPTON — A motion by murder suspect Ryan Welch to dismiss his court-appointed attorney was denied Thursday afternoon, despite Welch’s allegations that he feared his lawyer.

Welch claimed that John Morris of Salem has declined to assist him adequately, acted in complicity with prosecutors and put him in fear.

“I hate to say that I’m afraid of my own attorney,” Welch said during the 30-minute hearing in Hampshire Superior Court. “I’m more afraid of my own attorney right now than probably any other human being I’ve ever been in contact with.”

Welch, 38, has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge resulting from the February 2012 stabbing death of his girlfriend, Jessica Ann Pripstein, 39.

“It seems to me the commonwealth’s allegations against me literally violate the laws of physics,” Welch said in court Thursday.

Welch was asked by Judge Bertha Josephson if he felt his physical safety was in jeopardy when he was in the company of Morris.

Welch said he was not in fear of his physical safety as much as Morris’ “complicity with human rights abuses.” Welch did not elaborate on the nature of those abuses.

Welch in November fired his original court-appointed attorney, Paul Rudof, and was allowed to represent himself with Morris acting as standby counsel.

Morris was assigned as lead counsel in February by Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder.

Welch said Morris’ representation was inadequate so far and claimed he was working with prosecutors against him. “I feel like he’s here more to hand me over to the commonwealth on a silver platter than to defend me,” Welch said. “I don’t see a trial in September with Mr. Morris as being a fair trial.”

Welch is representing himself in Northampton District Court on charges of assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and disrupting a correctional institution after he allegedly stabbed another inmate in the forehead with a pen in March.

Welch said Thursday he was the victim in that assault and that Morris — who is acting as standby counsel in that case — failed to adequately assist him on those charges.

Morris said he was made aware of the charges as soon as they were filed.

“I’m not sure what Mr. Welch expected me to do,” Morris said. “As you know, the jail has every right to seek a criminal complaint against anybody it wants.”

Josephson told Welch that mere dissatisfaction with a court-appointed lawyer — when the client has demonstrated a lack of ability to hire private counsel — does not automatically entitle them to a new attorney as long as the lawyer meets the criteria to defend their client, as Morris does.

A final pretrial conference in the case was set for June 16 with the trial expected to start sometime in September.

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

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