Couple accused of starving, imprisoning twins appear in court

Trial date set for husband, wife to undergo evaluation

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: October 27, 2011, 6:09 PM

 

Accused of starving, beating and imprisoning their adopted twins for years, a Vancouver couple were in court Thursday to set a trial date.

Jeffrey Weller, 42, pleaded not guilty to five counts of second-degree assault and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. His trial was set for March 26.

Trial for Sandra Weller, 48, is in limbo, as her attorney requested a mental health evaluation to determine whether her client is competent to proceed. Sandra Weller will be evaluated at Western State Hospital. Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis set a review hearing for Nov. 29.

Competency evaluations determine whether defendants understand the charges and can assist in their own defense.

Lewis also granted a request by the defense to allow the Wellers supervised visitation of their four other sons, excluding the twins. A no-contact order is in place barring the parents from seeing the 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

The judge said he would allow visitation with the other four children, as long as it didn’t interfere with the dependency matters in family court.

The judge’s decision angered the former spouses of both Wellers, who attended Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s unbelievable and we will be taking steps to protect our children,” said Tina Toth, Jeffrey Weller’s ex-wife, who shares two sons, 12 and 14, with him.

Tim Graf, Sandra Weller’s ex-husband from Colorado, flew in for the hearing. He shares a 10-year-old son with Sandra Weller. The two were married when she adopted the twins 14 years ago in California. Outside court, he said he simply cares about the children’s welfare.

“We’re concerned for the kids’ safety — concern for their safety and sense of safety,” Graf said.

He said the allegations against his ex-wife were not surprising, as he was worried about abuse.

Both Wellers are free on bail. They declined interviews from reporters and TV cameramen who approached them outside the courtroom.

“Sandra, did you starve your children?,” one reporter shouted as Sandra Weller quickly walked by with her defense attorney, Diane Sweet. She ignored the question.

The Wellers were arrested Oct. 12 after a Child Protective Services worker alerted Vancouver police. Officers interviewed the twins, who alleged that for as long as they could remember, the Wellers have locked them in a bedroom without electricity and only fed them once a day, according to court documents.

If they snuck food, the twins said Jeffrey Weller would beat them with a wooden board, often until they bled.

The twins were placed in foster care, and the other four children in the Weller home were either placed in protective custody or with another family member.

Graf said he saw the twins two weeks ago and they seemed “surprisingly good.” He described them as special needs children, but couldn’t identify specific diagnoses or conditions.

He said he was proud of them for alerting an authority earlier this month, which sparked the police investigation.

“They kind of took on a rise-above mentality,” he said.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.