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Psychiatrist hired in Cornelius case dismissed

| Saturday, May 26, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

'Doc, I love you,' he said, but then he fired him.


After a contentious week between John Elash and Dr. Michael Welner - the defense attorney and the prosecution's star mental health expert in the upcoming trial of mass killing suspect Ronald Taylor - Elash said Friday he no longer wanted Welner as his own star mental health expert in another homicide trial.

'I have no desire to have him work for me, and I don't think he's professional,' Elash told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O'Toole yesterday morning.

Elash had hired Welner to evaluate Joseph Cornelius, 47, a homeless man originally of Uniontown, Fayette County, who is charged with sexually mutilating and strangling Scott Drake, 11, of the North Side, on Sept. 24.

But prosecutors are working with Welner to undermine the credibility of Taylor, 40, of Wilkinsburg, who Elash said was insane or otherwise mentally unable to determine right from wrong when he went on a shooting rampage March 1, 2000, that killed three men and injured two.

Jury selection for Taylor's trial is set to begin June 4.

Prosecutors say Taylor, who is black, was driven by hate and targeted only whites in his attack.

Though Taylor has cooperated with a psychiatrist for the defense, he often refused to cooperate in evaluative sessions this week with Welner.

Still, Welner said he was shocked that Elash fired him. Welner said he's never been fired before.

'It's an unusual and peculiar feeling,' Welner said.

At a news conference he called yesterday afternoon, Welner distributed copies of a letter Elash had written to him Tuesday in which Elash addressed him as 'Dr. Welner: My Man.' The letter was in reference to the Cornelius case.

By Thursday - after a three-day tug of war between Welner and Taylor - the once-congenial relationship turned sour.

Elash made a motion to O'Toole that Welner be barred from testifying in the case. The attorney said Welner made a statement in a television interview Tuesday in which he invited people who knew Taylor to contact him with whatever information they might have.

Elash claimed the tape-recorded interview was a violation of an informal gag order, and was unprofessional on Welner's part.

O'Toole, who said he had issued only an informal gag order in the case, quickly rejected Elash's motion, saying he found nothing unprofessional or unethical in Welner's conduct.

'There's no reason for me to be angry,' Welner said at the news conference yesterday. 'This is nothing personal.'

Welner said he had done a substantial amount of work on the Cornelius case, but wouldn't say how many hours or how much of a bill Elash would owe him. The psychiatrist was on his way back to New York, where his billing records are kept.

Chuck Plunkett Jr. can be reached at cplunkett@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7996. Staff writer Robert Baird contributed to this report.

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