On March 17, 1983 Carol Stonehouse called the police to report that she had shot her former boyfriend, retired police officer William Welsh, 47, outside of her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She told police, “He shot at me. I shot at him.”
Welsh was found clutching a .357-magnum revolver. Stonehouse, 41, was taken into custody and while enroute to police headquarters, she learned that Welsh was dead. Contrary to what Stonehouse said, Welsh’s gun had not been fired.
Stonehouse was a member of the Pittsburgh police force and had dated Welsh for a few months in 1980, not long after she joined the department. She said she shot Welsh following years of abuse that included death threats, slashed tires, break-ins and stalking.
Stonehouse was charged with murder and went on trial in Allegheny County Superior Court. Prosecutors presented evidence that Stonehouse shot twice at Welsh from her third-floor back porch, striking him once in the shoulder, and that the bullet traveled downward and severed a major artery, killing him.
Stonehouse, who was twice divorced with two children, testified that she met Welsh not long after she joined the police force in 1979 and that after dating a few months, she broke off the relationship. Welsh was married at the time.
Welsh would not let go, she testified, and after she broke up with him he went on a three-year campaign of abuse that included numerous death threats delivered with a gun pointed to her head.
The relationship between Stonehouse and Welsh had soured quickly. By the fall of 1980, according to Stonehouse, whenever she did not do what Welsh told her to do, he let the air out her tires, as often as two or three times a week. They frequently quarreled and after one argument, Welsh entered Stonehouse’s apartment building and left flowers outside her door. He later told her the flowers were for her funeral. Welsh put sugar in the gas tank of Stonehouse’s car and on many occasions, he took her car and moved it so she could not find it. On some occasions, he ripped out the ignition wires so that the car could not be started. Welsh began telephoning Stonehouse late at night.
Stonehouse said Welsh once threw a brick through the back door of her apartment when she was having a beer with a friend who had given her a ride because her car was not running. Although Stonehouse changed the locks on her apartment doors, Welsh was always able to get in, and often stole items such as personal phone books and papers with phone numbers on them.
When Stonehouse briefly dated another police officer, that officer’s car tires were flattened. In October of 1980, Welsh spotted Stonehouse having a conversation in a bar with another man. He broke into her apartment and threw food on the floors and walls, cut up her clothes, tore the curtains from the windows, urinated on and sliced the bed, ripped the wires out of the television, and soaked her shoes and clothes in hot water. When she called police, officers insisted she arrest him herself. She went to internal affairs, but nothing was done.
Welsh began calling Stonehouse at least twenty times a day. Stonehouse said she agreed to meet with him to make it clear that she did not want to see him anymore. When she asked Welsh to take her home from this meeting, he drove instead to a shopping center, where he dragged her out of the car and then repeatedly attempted to run over her. When that failed, he got out of the car and punched her, breaking her nose. Welsh was not arrested, though police arrived. Instead, Welsh took Stonehouse to a hospital.
Over the next three years, Stonehouse said she moved eight times to try to get away from Welsh, but was not successful.
Welsh left notes everywhere for Stonehouse—on her car, at work, at a spa—and he followed her everywhere she went. Welsh sent Stonehouse a birthday card, which she tore up and threw into the trash. Stonehouse said Welsh broke into her apartment, fished the card out the garbage, pieced it together and left it on her bed.
Stonehouse detailed many other abusive episodes, including more break-ins, damage to her car and apartment and threats with a gun held to her head.
She said Welsh filled her dresser drawers with water, soaked the clothes in her closet, and left beer bottles in her apartment. At one point, Welsh tapped her telephone so he could follow her. He once broke into her apartment during the night and threatened to “slice up” her face.
In May of 1982, Stonehouse moved to the Mount Washington section of Pittsburgh. In June of 1982, Welsh kicked in the door of this apartment.
Stonehouse’s neighbors testified that they saw Welsh’s van driving on the streets around the apartment every time they looked out their windows, and that Welsh would wake them up regularly, pounding on Stonehouse’s doors and shouting obscenities. The neighbors said Welsh sat in his van during the day and peered at Stonehouse’s apartment through binoculars. The police were notified, but nothing was done.
On September 14, 1983, despite uncontested evidence of this extreme harassment and abuse, a jury convicted Stonehouse of third degree murder. She was sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison.
In March 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the conviction on the basis of inadequate legal defense because Stonehouse’s trial lawyer had failed to call an expert witness to testify the effects of psychological and physical abuse.
The court noted, “The events culminating in Welsh's death are so bizarre that one would be tempted to dismiss them as the stuff of pulp fiction were it not for the corroboration of disinterested witnesses and for the fact that the literature on the ‘battered woman syndrome’ is replete with similar cases.”
“It was clear from the evidence presented at trial that Welsh's colleagues in the police department did little to protect appellant from Welsh's surveillance, harassment, acts of vandalism and assaults,” the court ruled.
Stonehouse went on trial again in March 1990 before a judge without a jury. In this trial, expert testimony on the effects of psychological and physical abuse was presented. On March 19, 1990, the judge acquitted Stonehouse.
In acquitting Stonehouse, Common Pleas Judge John W. O’Brien said, “I find that the defendant, Carol Stonehouse, is a victim of the battered woman syndrome and in a frenzied state, and reasonably believed that she was in imminent danger of death at the time she fired her weapon at Welsh."
Stonehouse, who had been suspended from the police force when she was charged in the case, was later reinstated and awarded back pay of $129,000.
– Maurice Possley