A teenage boy testified Tuesday that he and his twin sister were imprisoned, starved and beaten by their adoptive parents, Jeffrey and Sandra Weller.
The boy, 17, said Jeffrey Weller would routinely beat him and his twin sister, sometimes until they bled, with a piece of scrap lumber as punishment for taking food from the family’s kitchen.
He was one of four prosecution witnesses who testified Tuesday in the trial of his adoptive parents. The Vancouver couple are on trial in Clark County Superior Court on charges of child abuse, which Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson compared to torture. Through their attorneys, the couple deny the children were abused.
Jeffrey Weller, 43, also has been charged with abuse of three biological children in their North Hearthwood home.
The twin boy who testified said he and his twin sister were fed no more than once a day. They were given a can of vegetables, usually spinach, collard greens or sauerkraut; and a bowl of shortening, and ordered to eat it standing up near a wall, he said. The rest of the family, including Jeffrey and Sandra Weller and four biological children, ate hot prepared meals at the dining room table, he said.
He said he and his sister were excluded from the family meal because Sandra Weller, 50, said they were “filthy.”
As a result of the restricted diet, he said, he lived with constant hunger. He stole food, often with the help of the biological children, almost daily and shared it with his sister, he said. The boys came up with increasingly elaborate schemes to access locked kitchen cabinets to which only Jeffrey and Sandra Weller had keys, he said. Sometimes one of the biological children would distract Sandra Weller, and another child would steal the key, he said. Another time, he said, he broke into a cabinet and reached for anything he could grasp through a narrow opening. He said he usually fished out canned food and opened the cans with a screwdriver. Sometimes, they could only drink the liquid.
At one point, he said, he and Jeffrey Weller’s 12-year-old son cut a hole in the wall between their bedrooms so the 12-year-old and other brothers could pass food to the twins. The 12-year-old testified Tuesday that he usually brought sweets to feed the twins.
When the adults found out about stolen food, he said either he or his sister were beaten. He estimated that he was beaten at least weekly and as often as five times per week.
“I had to eat, and it was worth it,” he said.
His sister often took the blame and was beaten as punishment. He said if he had taken the blame, he would have been locked up with his sister in their bedroom, which lacked electricity and was locked at the doors and window. Then, he wouldn’t have been able to get food for him and his sister, he said.
He said he was forced to witness her beatings, which he then described in graphic detail. Richardson showed him the wood scrap confiscated by investigators, and the boy said that was what Jeffrey Weller used to beat him and his sister. He identified a brown stain on the end of the wood as dried blood.
Sometimes, Jeffrey Weller’s violence escalated, and he would strike the girl in the face with the piece of wood, he said. Jeffrey Weller also punched her with a key between his fingers, and once tried to strangle her, he said. Sandra Weller intervened and told her husband to stop, he said.
On cross-examination, David Kurtz, Jeffrey Weller’s attorney, asked the twin boy whether he remembered that he initially told investigators he hadn’t been beaten for two weeks before he was removed from the home on Oct. 7, 2011. The boy responded that the Wellers had found out his latest tactic for stealing food, and he hadn’t been able to access food, so he wasn’t punished.
The question also challenged testimony by Jeffrey Weller’s biological son, who said the twin boy was beaten on Oct. 7, 2011.
The twins had finally disclosed the abuse by leaving a letter at their therapist’s office earlier that day. They were 16 at the time.
Kurtz asked him why it took him so long to report the abuse if it had been happening regularly.
The boy replied that state Child Protective Services had visited the family home in east Vancouver numerous times over the years but didn’t explore the house past a formal living room where visitors were received from the front door.
“Plenty of people had called and plenty of people had come to the house,” he said. “We had lost faith in the system.”
Kim Karu, a CPS investigator, testified earlier Tuesday that twins were very thin and had dark, sunken eyes when she saw them on Oct. 7, 2011, during a welfare check at the Weller home.
Karu described seeing bicycle padlocks on the family’s kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. She said at the top of the stairs were food cans that appeared to have been jimmied open, rather than opened with a can opener.
“To me, it looked like (the cans) had been opened by any means necessary,” Vancouver police officer Sandra Aldridge testified.
Karu said the twins’ room was unlike any teenager’s bedroom she has seen as a social worker. It had no electricity or doorknobs, and there was a lock on the outside of the door, she said. There was no consistent flooring; it was a patchwork of floorboards and carpet scraps, she said.
Aldridge echoed Karu’s description of the twins’ bedroom. She also noted that it was cluttered, filthy and had a keyed lock on the window.
Kurtz asked Aldridge whether she had seen other children’s bedrooms that were that cluttered.
“I have seen cluttered bedrooms,” she replied. “(The twins’) bedroom is the worst I’ve seen in 16 years.”
In contrast, the couple’s other four children’s bedrooms had electricity, flooring, colorful decorations and age-appropriate toys and games, Karu said. The other children also were “chubby” and appeared to be normal children, she said.
Apparently trying to explain the lack of electricity in the twins’ bedroom, Kurtz asked the boy whether his sister had ever experimented with the electrical outlets in their bedroom. He said she had.
As the twin boy testified, Sandra Weller was observed pointing at him and gesturing.
Judge Barbara Johnson ordered the jury to leave the courtroom. She then threatened to remove Sandra Weller from the courtroom if she gestured at a witness again.
“It was just an emotional thing,” Sandra Weller told the judge.
The prosecution’s case continues today with testimony from a physician who examined the twins, a forensic scientist and the twin girl.