Jury deliberates child imprisonment, starvation and beating case

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A 12-member jury began deliberations this morning in the trial of Vancouver parents Jeffrey and Sandra Weller, accused of imprisoning, starving and beating their adopted twins.

Jeffrey Weller, 43, also is charged with strangling the twin girl and assaulting his 13-year-old biological son and Sandra Weller’s 11-year-old biological son.

The couple denied the charges on the stand Thursday.

Jury members were to assemble in the jury room at 9 a.m. today. It’s unknown how long it’ll take to reach a verdict, but they have to consider more than a dozen charges.

Until Oct. 7, 2011, the Weller couple lived in their North Hearthwood home in east Vancouver with the twins, now 17, Jeffrey’s two biological sons, 13 and 15, from a past marriage; Sandra’s 11-year-old son from a past marriage, and the couple’s 5-year-old biological son.

Sandra Weller and her ex-husband adopted the twins in California when they were about 2, the mother said.

Their charges are restricted to the period of Oct. 7, 2010 to Oct. 7, 2011, when Child Protective Services removed the children from the home. However, the twins said the abuse began much earlier.

They said the Wellers fed them only once a day with food that by many standards would be inedible. They were ordered to eat it while standing up, they said. Foods included canned collard greens, spinach or sauerkraut mixed with shortening and molded items, they said. Meanwhile, the other four children were fed hot prepared meals at the dining room table.

If they refused to eat what they were given, they were punished, they said. The twin boy said he was ordered to force feed his sister. She said she was forced to hold a spoonful of hot spices in her mouth and then swallow them without anything to wash it down.

All of the cabinets and the refrigerator were locked, they said. The six children worked together to access food in the cabinets for the twins to eat, five of the children testified. They unscrewed cabinet hinges, swiped the keys and smuggled food through a hole they cut between their bedrooms, they said.

When the Wellers found out, the twins were beaten with a scrap piece of lumber until they bled, they said. On rarer occasions, Sandra Weller whipped the twin girl with a cable-style bicycle lock normally used to secure the refrigerator, the twins said.

Outside of the daily meal, chores and schoolwork, the twins were expected to remain in their room, they said. The Wellers monitored the twins movement with an alarm over the door, the staircase between the bedrooms and kitchen and a lock on their window, they said.

The twin girl soiled the carpet in her bedroom because she was unable to leave, her twin brother said.

The Wellers testified that they never beat the children and that soiling the floor and hoarding food were part of the twins’ behavioral problems.