Forensic scientist, child abuse expert testify in Weller trial
Doctor says children had scars, were underweight
Originally published February 6, 2013 at 1:39 p.m., updated February 6, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
A forensic scientist testified Wednesday that blood stains on the end of a piece of scrap lumber allegedly used by Jeffrey Weller to repeatedly beat his adopted twins match the DNA of the twin boy.
The testimony marked the third day of the Vancouver couple’s trial on charges that they imprisoned, starved and beat their adopted twins. Jeffrey Weller also is charged with physically abusing three biological children in the family’s east Vancouver home. The charges are restricted to the time period of Oct. 7, 2010, to Oct. 7, 2011, though the twins, now 17, allege the abuse began years before that.
Through their attorneys, the couple deny abusing the children.
Heather Pyles, a forensic scientist at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, testified that she made DNA profiles for three swabs of blood taken from the wood piece, and all three samples matched the DNA of the twin boy. The likelihood that someone else’s DNA would match blood samples is one in 13 sextillion, she said.
Pyles also testified that a mixture of DNA likely belonging to Jeffrey Weller and the twins was found on the opposite end of the wood piece, the area that most likely would have been used as the handle.
Pyles’ testimony followed another key prosecution witness: the twin girl who was allegedly abused. (Her twin brother testified on Tuesday.)
She testified that she and her twin brother were treated differently than the other four children, who all were biological children of Jeffrey and/or Sandra Weller.
The twin girl said she was expected to stay in her room except for chores, meals and schoolwork. She said there was no lock on the door to keep her inside, but there was an alarm that went off when the door was open. Her twin brother shared the room with her but sometimes was allowed to sleep with another brother for what the Wellers considered to be good behavior.
She testified that she and her twin brother were fed moldy food, including bread, while the rest of the family ate good food. When she refused to eat the food she was given, she said, she was punished. Her parents would force her to hold hot spices in her mouth, she said.
Child abuse physician Kim Copeland of the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center’s Child Abuse Assessment Team, who evaluated and examined the girl, testified that the girl said that when she refused to eat food the Wellers gave her, she was forced to hold a spoonful of a hot or salty spice in her mouth and then swallow it without anything to drink. Spices included steak pepper, chili, salt, cayenne pepper and others, Copeland said.
“Her mouth would be swollen and bleeding inside,” Copeland said. “She said, ‘It felt like a hole in my cheeks.’ ”
She also disclosed that Sandy Weller mixed moldy food, dead and alive flies and bacon grease in her food, Copeland said.
“She would throw up often when that happened,” Copeland said.
During cross-examination, David Kurtz, Jeffrey Weller’s attorney, asked whether the twin girl was ever fed hot dogs, burgers or steak in the Weller home. She said that she had been.
The 11-year-old son of Sandra Weller later testified that the twins were only allowed to share food that the rest of the family ate when there were guests in the household.
The food in the household was locked up, all the children testified. There were locks on the refrigerator and on kitchen cabinets.
The 11-year-old testified that he and the other biological children would smuggle food to the twins or find ways to get the keys to cabinets, unlock them and tell the twins to go get food from the cabinet.
“I felt kind of bad about (the twins) eating rotten food,” the 11-year-old testified. “One day, we decided that’s not fair, so we decided to get real food for them.”
When the Wellers found out food had been stolen, they punished the twins by beating them with “the board,” which is what the children called the piece of wood.
The twin girl said the beatings caused splinters and bleeding. Sometimes, she said she was whipped with the cable-style bicycle lock that was on the refrigerator. She also described one occasion when Jeffrey Weller tried to choke her. Sandra Weller stopped him.
The 11-year-old said the twins’ beatings usually happened after he went to bed. He said he found out about the beatings because one time the sounds of one of the twins screaming woke him up.
He said Jeffrey Weller did all of the beatings, but Sandra Weller would tell him how many times to strike.
Copeland testified Wednesday that the twins showed signs of malnutrition and had scars consistent with being repeatedly beaten.
Copeland said the twin boy had a broken arm that never was set and had healed with a bend in the bone. The boy told her that the injury happened when Jeffrey Weller was beating him with “the board,” she said. The boy said the board hit his arm when he tried to protect himself, she said. She said the injury was consistent with that description. She said he also had skin discolorations consistent with being repeatedly beaten with a board.
Copeland also said she found scars on the twin sister’s back that were consistent with being whipped with a cable-style bicycle lock.
She said both of the twins were underweight. She said the twin girl was 5-foot-5-inches and 89 pounds, about the fifth to seventh percentile of weight for her age and height. The twin girl testified Wednesday that she now weighs 138 pounds.
At 119 pounds and about 5-foot-9 inches, the twin boy was in the 10th to 25th percentile for his age and height, she said. He testified Tuesday that he now weighs 145 pounds.
The physician also gleaned other details about the alleged abuse from evaluations and examinations she did on the twins and three biological children in the home.
Jeffrey Weller’s son, now 13, told her that the children were bathed only once a week. They also had to share the bath water because the Wellers didn’t want to waste water, she said.
She said the twin boy had disclosed that his twin sister had soiled the floor in their bedroom because she couldn’t get out of the room to go to the bathroom. Her twin brother said his sister had to stay in her room about 22 hours per day, Copeland said.
He told Copeland that the soiled area was cleaned up with bleach, she said. After the bleach was poured, he told her that he and his twin sister were forced to sit in the room for 15 minutes with the door and window shut, she said.
“He described it as being hard to breathe and choking,” she said.
Pieces of particle board, carpet scraps and rugs were then thrown over the spot, she said.