Jeffrey and Sandra Weller took the stand Thursday to deny they had imprisoned, starved and beat their adopted teenage twins in their east Vancouver home. The jury will begin deliberations today.
Sandra Weller, who faces multiple counts of assault and unlawful imprisonment, said the teenage boy’s blood found on a board came from a cut, not from repeated beatings. She said the thin teenage girl was bulimic. She said scars on both of the twins may have come from fights with other children in the house.
Jeffrey Weller, who also faces multiple counts of assault, unlawful imprisonment as well as a charge of strangulation, said the twins were never locked in their room and that he’d never used a board to discipline any of the children.
The couple testified one day after a forensic scientist said there was a match between blood stains on the board and the DNA of the twin boy.
The twins and two biological children of Sandra and Jeffrey Weller testified earlier this week that the twins were beaten with the board until they bled for stealing food. The twins said they stole the food because they were fed only once a day, sometimes with rotten and moldy food, and were hungry. The couple’s four biological children received regular, prepared meals, they said. The couple have one son together and three from previous marriages.
Playing with cans
On Thursday, Sandra Weller said the twin boy had cut himself while playing with food cans in the garage. He picked up the board and got his blood on it, she said. Sandra Weller said she saw him holding the board. She didn’t explain how she knew he had been playing with cans but said the children liked to play with cans. She said she saw his hand was bleeding, though not profusely.
She said she never saw Jeffrey Weller strike any of the children with the board. She also denied an accusation by the twin girl that she used a cable-style bicycle lock, usually used to secure the refrigerator, to whip the girl on the back.
She said the children often fought with each other, sometimes drawing blood, which she said might explain scars on their bodies.
On cross-examination, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson asked Sandra Weller whether a cut from a can could cause blood stains on all four sides of the wood scrap.
She said she didn’t know.
Jeffrey Weller said he disciplined his two biological sons and Sandra Weller’s biological son with a belt but never used a board on any of the children.
He also denied that the twins weren’t allowed to eat when they were hungry.
Sandra Weller’s attorney, Suzan Clark, showed family photos of the twins joining in a family vacation at the beach and a holiday celebration at the home. In one holiday photo from 2008, the twins sit at the family’s dining table with a mound of turkey and side dishes on their plates. Their hair is shorn to their scalps, apparently because of a hair-pulling condition known as trichotillomania. They appeared thin but were smiling.
Sandra Weller said the twin girl was thin because she had bulimia, an eating disorder that causes food binges followed by vomiting or other methods to prevent digestion.
Richardson asked Sandra Weller whether she noticed that the twin girl had gained weight since she was removed from the Weller home in October 2011.
“Not a lot,” she replied.
The twin girl was 89 pounds when she was removed from the home, according to child abuse physician Kim Copeland. On Wednesday, the girl testified she weighed 138 pounds.
The couple were the only witnesses in their defense.
In closing arguments, Richardson said the twins were kept under lock and key. They could get out of the door, but they were expected to remain inside their room. Their window was locked, and there was an alarm over the doorway. He said the fear of beatings was enough to imprison them in the room. That was shown by the fact that the twin girl had repeatedly soiled the flooring in her bedroom, he said.
They were fed only once a day with foods no one would want to eat, including collard greens mixed with shortening and moldy food, he said. The starvation set off a vicious cycle, he said. The twins and three of the Wellers’ other children worked together to access food in locked cabinets. They unscrewed cabinet hinges, swiped their parents’ keys and carved a hole in the wall between their bedrooms, so food could be smuggled to the twins, he said. The punishment for taking the food was a beating and no food at all for a couple of days, he said.
He said the twins’ hair pulling resulted from the stress in the household, noting that the twin girl’s hair had grown out to her shoulders since she left the Weller home.
“This is torture when you are put in a position (like this) by your parents,” he said.
Defense attorney David Kurtz said Jeffrey Weller never hit the twins with a board or strangled the twin girl, as accused. He also said the twins weren’t locked in their room. The twin girl made it clear during testimony that she could get out of the room, he said.
He suggested that the children turned against the Wellers because they were angry about custody arrangements.
“Yes, there is a conflict between his testimony and the testimony of his children,” he said. “I’m not stupid. … Is it possible there is some anger?”
He also said the jury should have been given more evidence. That includes the bike lock that was allegedly used to strike the twin girl, a surveillance camera receiver and notebooks that belonged to the girl.
Clark said evidence doesn’t prove that the twin girl was beaten because her blood wasn’t on the board. She asked the jury to take a close look at the board.
“It looks like somebody touched it with a bloody hand,” she said.
She also noted that Child Protective Services came to the house twice on the day the children were removed. Sandra Weller had a few hours to dispose of the board before investigators searched the home, but she didn’t do that because she didn’t know about any beatings.
She also said the twins were not imprisoned; they went on weekly outings to Friday home-school activities and craft time at home improvement stores, among other things.