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Crystal Weimer

Other Pennsylvania Cases with Official Misconduct
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Shortly after 4 a.m. on January 27, 2001, police found the body of 21-year-old Curtis Haith outside his residence in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He had been shot and beaten.

Police quickly determined that the evening before, Haith had attended a party in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. At about 10 p.m., 23-year-old Crystal Weimer, whose sisters hosted the party, and Doug Giles gave Haith a ride to his home. Witnesses told police that Haith later went to the Arch Café. After it closed, a group of friends accompanied him back to his home. The last of the guests left about 4 a.m.

Shortly thereafter, a neighbor called 911 after hearing a gunshot and a voice calling for help. An autopsy determined the gunshot wound was not fatal and that Haith died of blunt force trauma to his head.

The police focused on Crystal Weimer as a suspect and questioned her the same day. She gave the officers the clothing she was wearing the night before which were stained with mud and blood, but denied any involvement in the murder.

Tests showed that DNA recovered from a bandana and a sweatshirt found near Haith’s body came from the same person, but subsequent testing excluded Weimer as the source of that DNA, and failed to identify the person who left it. In addition, Haith’s DNA was not found on Weimer’s clothing.

Nearly two years later, in October 2002, police arrested Thomas Beal on an unrelated charge and he told police that Weimer—his former girlfriend—had admitted that she and a man named Michael Gibson had killed Haith. Police questioned Gibson, who denied any knowledge of Haith’s murder, but said he and Weimer had been in a fight the day before the murder and that Crystal bit his thumb. DNA tests confirmed that the blood on Weimer’s clothing came from Gibson.

A month later, in November 2002, Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Beverly Ashton joined the Connellsville police in the investigation. During a review of the autopsy photographs, Ashton noticed a mark on Haith’s hand, which she suspected was a bite mark, although no mention of a bite mark was contained in the autopsy report.

In August 2003, nearly a year later, Conrad Blair, an inmate in the Fayette County Jail, contacted detectives and gave them a statement that Blair claimed had been written by a fellow prisoner, Joseph Stenger, who had been arrested for a series of robberies. In the written statement, Stenger purportedly claimed that he, Beal and Weimer were involved in Haith’s murder.

Police contacted Stenger’s attorney, who said that Stenger denied writing the statement.

Police then obtained a warrant to search Stenger’s cell for a handwriting sample and to obtain a blood sample. The warrant, which was read to Stenger, contained details of the investigation, including that Haith had been beaten and shot and that a bandana and a sweatshirt were recovered at the scene. While police were in the cell, Stenger said he had been present when Haith was killed, but he was not the shooter. It was the first of what ultimately would be 15 different accounts of the killing offered by Stenger.

DNA tests were performed on Stenger’s blood and on a sample obtained from Beal and neither profile matched the profile obtained from the bandana and sweatshirt.

Weimer was arrested on January 21, 2004 on charges of third-degree murder and two counts each of conspiracy and aggravated assault. The following month, Stenger was similarly charged. Stenger then gave a much different statement to the police. In this version, Stenger no longer said Beal was involved, but that he and Weimer were present and that two black men beat Haith with clubs and that one of them shot Haith. Stenger worked with a state trooper to generate composite sketches of the two black men.

A preliminary hearing was held in March 2004 during which a detective testified that forensic testing showed that one of the soil samples collected from Haith’s yard was “consistent in color with the dark-colored soil smear” on Weimer’s coat and “with the light-colored soil smear” on Weimer’s jeans. Corporal Ashton testified that a forensic odontologist would testify that Weimer’s teeth caused the bite mark on Haith’s hand. Beal refused to testify and asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

After a judge found that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to go forward, Weimer’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case. In April 2004, at a hearing on the motion, Beal recanted his statement that implicated Weimer. As a result, the judge dismissed the charges, saying, “You could never expect a jury to convict her.” Weimer was released from jail.

In September 2004, Stenger pled guilty to conspiracy to commit homicide and agreed to testify against Weimer in return for a sentence of 9 to 18 years to be served concurrently with a sentence of 57 months to 9½ years in his unrelated robbery cases. The prosecution dismissed Stenger’s murder charges. In his latest version of events, Stenger said he fired the shot that wounded Haith, but claimed he was trying to stop the black men from beating Haith to death.

Based on Stenger’s cooperation, the prosecution again filed charges against Weimer and on September 27, 2004, she was arrested again.

Weimer went to trial in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas on April 3, 2006. Stenger testified that he had known Weimer since childhood and that sometime after midnight on January 27, 2001, he was walking on the street when he saw Weimer drive by and she picked him up. He said she was angry because she had been in a fight. “I think I remember her saying Curt (Haith) hit her,” Stenger told the jury.

He said he rode with Weimer to Uniontown where they picked up two black men, then drove to Weimer’s father’s trailer in Dunbar, Pennsylvania, where he waited in the car while the black men and Weimer retrieved a baseball bat and a crowbar.

Stenger testified that they drove to Haith’s apartment between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. There, the black men hid outside and he waited in the car holding a gun, while Weimer knocked on the door. When Haith answered, he said the black men attacked him and that Weimer was kicking at Haith. Stenger said he got out of the car and fired a shot at Haith because he wanted to “stop everything. Get it over with.”

Stenger said they left and he was dropped off and went home where he hid the gun. He said he met Weimer at her home the next day (although he was unable to tell police where it was) and together they took her clothes and the gun and tossed them into the South Connellsville River. Stenger admitted that his prior statements were false. “It’s all lies,” he testified.

A police officer testified that during the investigation, dental molds of the teeth of Weimer and Gibson were obtained and sent to a local periodontist to compare them to the autopsy photograph. When the periodontist couldn’t reach any conclusion, photographs of the molds and the autopsy photograph were sent to Dr. Constantine Karazulas, the chief forensic odontologist for the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory.

Karazulas testified that he was a “certified fellow” of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and a member of the American Society of Forensic Odontology. He said he had been an “oral surgeon” for 47 years and that he had examined more than 5,000 bite marks. He told the jury that no two individuals have identical teeth shape and formation.

Karazulas said that he concluded that Weimer “made that bite mark.” Asked by the prosecution if it was a “definite match,” Karazulas replied, “Yes.” He also said the bite mark was made 7 to 10 minutes prior to Haith’s death, although he admitted that previously he had reported to the prosecution on one occasion that the bite was made 20 minutes prior to death and on another occasion he said it was made 12 to 15 minutes prior to death. He told the jury he was able to make such a determination because, in his experience, the redness on the skin dissipates 15 to 20 minutes after a bite. He said his “experience” consisted of biting himself using teeth molds to observe the healing process.

Police officers testified that Weimer had given inconsistent explanations of how she had been injured.

Three jail inmates – Linda Reynolds, Carol Harris, and Robert Mackey - testified that Weimer had admitted to them that she was involved. Reynolds testified that Weimer spoke of a man’s death and that she “never meant for it go that far” because she “only wanted him to know what it felt like to get beat up.”

Harris testified that Weimer told her that she was “there” or “involved.” Mackey testified that Weimer told him that she “was with a guy (named Curt) and he was beating her all of the time, so she got a couple of other guys to get rid of him…They went to where he was staying, and her and the other guys, they beat him.” Mackey also testified that Weimer and Haith dated each other in 2003, even though Haith was killed in 2001.

John Evans, a state police forensic scientist, testified that his soil analysis, which involved inspecting the color of the soil and the particle size, showed that of seven soil samples taken from Haith’s yard, one had material that was “similar or consistent with soil that was detected” on Weimer’s clothing.

Weimer testified that her cousin, Doug Giles, asked her to accompany him to take Haith home from the party at Weimer’s sisters’ apartment and that after they dropped Haith off, they returned directly to the party. She said that upon her return, she got into a fight with Gibson, whom she was then dating, and that during the fracas, she bit his thumb and he hit her in the eye. Gibson and Peggy Hadley, who was present at the party, corroborated Weimer’s account of the evening.

The defense also called Dr. Michael Sobel, a forensic odontologist, who said that he was unable to eliminate or include either Weimer or Gibson as the source of the bite mark because the autopsy photograph was not clear enough to make a valid comparison. Sobel also testified that he doubted Karazulas’s claim of examining more than 5,000 bite marks because he didn’t believe that the whole American Board of Forensic Odontology had collectively seen 5,000 bite marks. Sobel also said that Karazulas’s use of a computer program to make bite mark comparisons had not been scientifically validated.

During closing argument, the prosecution told the jury that the jailhouse informants had not asked for any leniency on their own cases in return for their testimony. “These are people that have asked for nothing from the Commonwealth,” the prosecutor declared. Years later, Weimer’s defense attorneys discovered that in fact two of the informants—Reynolds and Mackey—had written letters to the prosecution requesting favorable treatment, but those letters were never disclosed to Weimer’s trial defense lawyer. The existence of the letters showed that the informants had testified falsely at trial when they denied they sought deals for their testimony.

On April 7, 2006, the jury convicted Weimer of third-degree murder and conspiracy to commit homicide. She was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld her convictions. Subsequently, Weimer filed motions for post-conviction relief, but all were denied. In 2014, a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on her behalf.

In December 2014, Stenger admitted to Weimer’s lawyers and an investigator that his testimony at her trial was false. He said he never saw Weimer on the night of Haith’s death. He said that police walked him through his story, suggesting how things happened and where they happened. He said police drove him to Haith’s home because he didn’t know where it was.

Stenger said he concocted the story about two black men because where he was from, whenever something bad happened, people would blame it on black men. He said the composite sketches were a joke and that police would never find anyone who matched the sketches because they didn’t exist.

Weimer’s lawyers determined that Karazulas had falsely stated he was certified and that he was an oral surgeon when his practice was a general practice. Because he had made the same claim in another case, he had been subjected to an ethics investigation by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and ultimately had resigned from the Academy.

In early 2015, Karazulas disavowed the use of bite mark comparison and his method of making comparisons of teeth molds and photographs of bite marks. He said that one of the methods he used in the Weimer case was “garbage.” In addition, an independent forensic odontologist concluded that Karazulas’s opinions about the bite mark on Haith’s hand were “inflammatory pseudoscience.”

In February 2015, Weimer, represented by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project (and later, the law firm of Jones Day), filed a motion for a new trial, citing the recantations of Stenger and Karazulas as well as the evidence debunking Karazulas. The defense lawyers had also discovered that the prosecution had failed to disclose to Weimer’s trial counsel that the jailhouse witnesses had requested favorable treatment on their cases in return for their testimony against Weimer.

On October 1, 2015, the motion was granted and a new trial was ordered. Weimer was released on bond the same day.

In December 2015, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the charges. On June 27, 2016, at a hearing on the motion, Stenger testified that if called as a witness at the retrial, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The defense then argued that the prosecution should not be allowed to introduce Stenger’s testimony from the 2006 trial because he could not be cross-examined about his recantation. Bedford County Senior Judge Daniel Lee Howsare, who had been appointed to preside over the retrial after all of the judges in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas recused themselves, agreed and barred the state from using Stenger’s testimony from the 2006 trial.

As a result, Fayette County District Attorney Rich Bower said the prosecution had insufficient evidence to proceed. Judge Howsare then granted the defense motion to dismiss the charges with prejudice.

In September 2017, Weimer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and police officers involved in her case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/29/2016
Last Updated: 9/29/2017
State:Pennsylvania
County:Fayette
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:15 to 30 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No