A Vancouver couple serving about 20 years in prison for imprisoning, starving and beating their adopted twins won part of their court appeal, but found out Thursday it won’t greatly change their punishment.
Jeffrey and Sandra Weller appeared in Clark County Superior Court to receive a new sentence after the Court of Appeals ruled in February that one of the factors considered in their initial sentencing was invalid. However, on Thursday, only Jeffrey Weller’s sentence was reduced, and only by one year.
Jeffrey Weller, 46, and Sandra Weller, 52, had been sentenced to 21 and 20 years in prison, respectively, in March 2013 following a jury trial. A judge on Thursday ordered the couple to each serve 20 years.
The couple abused the adopted twins, a boy and girl, by keeping them confined to their rooms for long periods of time. They fed the children only once a day, sometimes with moldy or rotten food. Meanwhile, the Wellers’ four other children were fed hot prepared meals. When the twins attempted to steal food, they were beaten with a board until they bled, according to court documents.
The twins, who are now young adults, and their siblings were removed from the Weller house on Oct. 7, 2011.
The Wellers would have served no more than 10 years in prison under standard sentencing guidelines. However, the jury found there were aggravating factors that allowed for an exceptional sentence. Jeffrey Weller had received an extra year in prison because he was convicted of assaulting two more children: his biological son and Sandra Weller’s biological son.
On appeal, the couple argued, among other things, that their exceptional sentence was invalid because there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s findings of the aggravating factors — deliberate cruelty and an ongoing pattern of abuse.
The appeals court found that the deliberate cruelty aggravating factor was valid to support the exceptional sentence, but agreed that the second factor was not. The appeals court remanded the case for resentencing.
Judge Barbara Johnson presided over the case. Johnson, who retired in March, returned to the bench Thursday to preside over the Wellers’ hearing. Deputy Prosecutor Colin Hayes asked her to impose the same sentence and to keep the no-contact orders in place for the victims.
“It’s hard to fathom how one human being can treat another one this way,” said Hayes, adding that it’s even more unfathomable coming from a parent or guardian.
The Wellers’ defense attorneys recommended that Johnson cut the exceptional sentence in half. Jeffrey Weller’s attorney, David Kurtz, also raised an issue with the additional year his client had originally received. That sentence, which was based on convictions for a gross misdemeanor, can’t be served in prison as it was ordered and instead would need to be served in the county jail.
When given an opportunity to speak, both Jeffrey and Sandra Weller said they’ve suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m doing the best I can to deal with things in the past,” Jeffrey Weller said. He added that he’s been seeing a therapist to deal with some of his issues.
Sandra Weller said she regrets many things. “I wish I could go back in time and do things over,” she said.
In the end, Johnson said she had taken into consideration what the Wellers shared but couldn’t overlook the egregious nature of the crimes.
“This certainly falls into the category as one of the worst examples of treatment of children,” she said.
Johnson shortened Jeffrey Weller’s original sentence by a year.
Each was given credit for 930 days in custody.