(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
Vancouver parents Sandra and Jeffrey Weller were sentenced Wednesday to 20 and 21 years in prison, respectively, for imprisoning, starving and beating their adopted twins.
The sentences were delivered before a standing-room-only crowd by Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson. Jeffrey Weller, 43, and Sandra Weller 50, were dressed in navy blue jumpsuits. The twins, a boy and girl now 17, sat in the front row.
The Wellers showed no visible reaction to the sentence.
“They got what they deserved,” the boy said after the sentencing. “Now it’s time to put it behind us and for me and my family to move on.”
Jeffrey and Sandra Weller were convicted Feb. 8 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. Jeffrey Weller was also found guilty of strangulation of the girl twin, another count of third-degree assault and two counts of fourth-degree assault.
“I’ve seen tears, I’ve breathed the meaning of agony,” the boy twin wrote in a victim impact statement read aloud Wednesday by his attorney, Maggie Smith Evansen. “I’ve watched long nights of hurt and sorrow that can only come from a lonely hell. Yet still, we pushed on, waiting for a light at the end that took so many years to come.”
That light appeared on Oct. 7, 2011, when Child Protective Services removed him, his twin sister, and four other siblings from the Weller house.
In the trial, the twins and their adoptive siblings described that “lonely hell” in graphic detail. The twins, their adoptive brother, and another sibling all wrote victim impact statements to the judge, as did the couple’s ex-spouses.
The Wellers fed the twins only once a day with moldy food or bowls of canned vegetables served with shortening. The twins 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, stealing 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 girl twin with a cable-style bicycle lock normally used to secure the refrigerator, the twins said.
“We all grew up in a place where the people who are there to protect us were the monsters that other children fear,” the boy twin wrote. “The people who were there to hold us drew our blood on a regular basis.”
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 girl twin soiled the carpet in her bedroom because she was unable to leave, her twin brother said.
Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson had recommended a sentence of 20 years each for the couple. Under standard sentencing guidelines, the couple would have faced no more than 10 years in prison, but the jury found that there were aggravating factors, which allowed for an “exceptional” sentence. Among the factors were that the abuse was on par with torture.
Judge Johnson said she found that an exceptional sentence was appropriate. Jeffrey Weller received an extra year in prison because he was convicted of also assaulting his biological son and Sandra Weller’s biological son.
Johnson said the trial was “one of the most difficult” she had heard since she became a judge in 1987. Juror Deanna Imri, who attended the sentencing, echoed that sentiment.
“That was the roughest thing we’ve ever gone through,” Imri said.
The couple claim they were framed. They plan to appeal their convictions, their attorneys have said.
The male twin said he now lives with a foster family in Carson, where he eats ice cream every night. His twin sister lives in Olympia, and they are able to visit each other occasionally.
“I’m glad it’s over,” he said
Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; firstname.lastname@example.org.