On April 24, 1992, workers removing trash from a canyon near Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, California found the dismembered body of 55-year-old Robert Evans stuffed in plastic bags.
Murray Weiner, 65, the part owner of a San Diego carpet store located about two miles from the canyon, came under suspicion after Evans’ girlfriend told police that four months earlier, on November 17, 1991, Evans told her he was going to meet with Weiner to discuss the nearly $40,000 that Weiner owed him. She had not seen or heard from Evans again.
Police began watching Weiner. On September 11, 1992, they followed a delivery truck from the carpet store to a storage unit. When police called to inquire, the manager said the unit was leased by Weiner’s business, Carpet Corner Design. Soon after that phone call, the manager telephoned Weiner to fill in missing information on the lease agreement. She later told police that Weiner showed up minutes later, appearing “extremely nervous,” though she said she didn’t tell him that police had been asking about the unit.
Weiner cancelled the lease that day and four days later cleaned out the unit. Detectives then searched it and found four red blood drops on the walls and floor. Police submitted three of the blood drops for the then-primitive DNA testing available at the time known as DQ-Alpha and crime analysts said the blood drops were linked to Evans.
On November 9, 1992, Weiner, who years earlier had been charged with killing his stepfather in New York (the charges were dismissed), was arrested and charged with murdering Evans.
Prosecutors said they believed that Evans had loaned nearly $40,000 to Weiner intending to invest it in the carpet business, but Weiner had gambled the money away instead. Questioned by police, Weiner at first denied knowing Evans or owing him any money. But eventually, he acknowledged the debt and that he met with Evans on November 17, 1991. Weiner said after the meeting he drove to San Ysidro.
Both Evans and Weiner had criminal records. Weiner had several past convictions for forgery and grand larceny. Evans had been convicted several years earlier of stealing three vials of gold worth about $200 from a couple who were mining gold on the Yuba River in Northern California, on land that Evans asserted was his property. Police learned that Evans had later sold some interest in his gold mine to Ezra Adams, a heavy equipment operator from Ramona, California. In 1989, Adams had been convicted of 86 counts of child molestation and sentenced to 270 years in prison.
Police also learned that after Evans disappeared and before his body was discovered, Evans’ sister visited Adams in prison. During their conversation, Adams speculated that someone “might have cut her brother up into pieces and put him into plastic bags.”
Weiner went on trial in San Diego Superior Court. The prosecution contended Weiner was a gambling addict who had borrowed money from his wealthy and influential connections in San Diego society in order to finance his gambling and to pay off others he had borrowed from, similar to a Ponzi scheme. He had taken Evans for nearly $40,000, the prosecution said.
A pathologist testified that Evans had been shot once in the back of the head and that his body had been cut up with a chain saw in the storage shed. A forensic analyst that testified three drops of blood found in the storage unit came from Evans.
Weiner’s lawyer attacked the sufficiency of the evidence and argued that the DNA testing available at that time was not accurate.
The defense also attempted to suggest that Ezra Adams was the real killer because he had invested in Evans’ gold mine and he believed Evans had swindled him. Adams was called as a defense witness, but asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.
On February 16, 1994, after six days of deliberation, the jury convicted Weiner.
Weiner was taken to a jail cell to await sentencing. His cell mate was James Kirby, who was awaiting his own trial on a charge of shooting a woman in a San Diego movie theater during the movie, “Schindler’s List.” Kirby claimed the gun discharged accidentally.
For three days, neither man said much, but finally Kirby asked Weiner why he was in jail. Weiner said he had been convicted of killing a man and cutting him up with a chain saw, but that he was innocent. Kirby replied, “Well, are you sure there wasn’t some kind of mine involved in that? I know somebody that told me that they did it.”
Kirby told Weiner that after Adams refused to testify at Weiner’s trial, Adams was brought to jail to await transfer back to prison. While there, Adams was Kirby’s cellmate. Kirby said Adams revealed that he had hired two Mexican men to kill Evans and chop up the body. Kirby said that Adams was angry because the body bags were dumped too close to businesses and were supposed to be dropped further inland to reduce the chance of being discovered. Kirby said Adams ridiculed the police investigation saying, “I did the murder, but they got someone else.”
Weiner’s attorney then filed a motion for a new trial, citing the statements of Kirby. On April 1, 1994, following a hearing where Kirby testified to his conversation with Adams, Weiner was granted a new trial. The judge noted that a psychiatrist had examined Kirby at the request of prosecutors handling the movie theater shooting and that the psychiatrist had found Kirby to be “compulsively honest.”
The prosecution appealed the ruling, but the California Court of Appeals refused to overturn the order in September 1995.
By that time, Weiner was out of money and San Diego County deputy public defender Kate Coyne was appointed to represent him. Since DNA testing had become more precise than it was in 1992 when the blood in the storage unit was first analyzed, Coyne sought testing of the fourth drop of blood in the storage unit that had never been tested. Evans was excluded as the source of the blood.
Coyne also discovered that prior to Weiner’s first trial, a blood spatter expert told the prosecution that all four drops came from the same source--information that had not been provided to Weiner's defense attorney at trial. Armed with this information, Coyne asked the prosecution to dismiss the case.
The prosecution refused and offered Weiner a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and receive an 11-year prison sentence. Weiner refused the deal, maintaining his innocence.
The case went on trial for a second time in the summer of 1996. Kirby testified to Adams’ admissions, as did several other prison inmates who said Adams had confessed to them that he had hired two men to kill Evans.
On August 14, 1996, after a month-long trial, a jury acquitted Weiner after deliberating only a few hours, and he was released.
Weiner filed a federal wrongful conviction suit, but the case was dismissed in 1998.
– Maurice Possley