Jury convicts Wellers in child abuse case
Both parents convicted on majority of counts
Originally published February 8, 2013 at 4:01 p.m., updated February 8, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.
A Clark County jury found Vancouver parents Sandra and Jeffrey Weller guilty Friday of imprisoning, starving and beating their adopted twins.
Jeffrey Weller, 43, also was found guilty of strangling the twin girl and assaulting his biological son and Sandra Weller’s biological son.
Their sentencing will be at 3 p.m. March 12.
“Justice was done,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson said as he left the courtroom.
The unanimous verdict in the courtroom of Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson marked the end of a five-day trial during which five of the Wellers’ six children took the stand to recount the cruelty that happened in their North Hearthwood home in east Vancouver. That included the twins, now 17.
As each guilty verdict was read, supporters of the victims cried quietly in the public gallery with apparent relief.
Both Sandra, 50, and Jeffrey Weller were found guilty of three counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful imprisonment, second-degree assault, and four counts of third-degree assault causing bodily harm. In addition, Jeffrey Weller was found guilty of strangulation of the twin girl, another count of third-degree assault and two counts of fourth-degree assault. They both were found not guilty of another count of unlawful imprisonment, and Jeffrey Weller was found not guilty of another count of third-degree assault.
The couple remained calm while the verdict was read but became more emotional as the jury filed out of the courtroom. They embraced as they stood to see the jury out.
“I didn’t do it. I was framed. I will appeal this,” Jeffrey Weller cried out as he was taken away in handcuffs.
Suzan Clark, Sandra Weller’s attorney, said her client also would appeal.
Earlier in the trial, Richardson said that if convicted of all charges, Jeffrey Weller could face up to 65 years in prison, but he said that amount was unlikely. The maximum sentence for Sandra Weller would be less, he said.
Tim Graf, biological father of Sandra Weller’s 11-year-old son, said he was relieved by the verdict.
“It’s exactly what it should have been,” he said. “I’m feeling elation and deep sorrow.”
Graf is Sandra Weller’s ex-husband, and he adopted the twins with her when they were still married. Sandra Weller got custody of all three children from the marriage. Graf received custody of the 11-year-old after he and the other five children were removed from the Weller home on Oct. 7, 2011.
He said his son has thrived since leaving the Weller home. He said his son was two years behind in school when he came to live with Graf, and now he has caught up.
He said he, his wife, son and the twins would spend the weekend together to celebrate. The twins now live in separate foster homes in different parts of Washington.
The 12-member jury began deliberating at 9 a.m. Friday, and the verdict was returned just before 4 p.m.
The jury didn’t explain why they returned not-guilty verdicts on two of the counts. They declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
The twins and their adoptive siblings said the Wellers fed the twins only once a day with moldy food or bowls of canned vegetables served with shortening and were ordered to eat it while standing up. Meanwhile, the other four children were fed hot prepared meals at the dining room table.
If the twins refused to eat what they were given, they were punished. For instance, the twin girl 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, the children said. The six children worked together to access food in the cabinets for the twins to eat by unscrewing cabinet hinges, swiping their parents’ keys and smuggling 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 and over 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.