April 7, 2006
By Elizabeth Perry and Bridget DiCosmo
Innocence Institute of Point Park University
Earlier this year, Crystal Dawn Weimer turned down a deal for as little as two years in prison if she admitted her role and cooperated in the Curtis Haith murder case.
Now she faces a 20-40 year sentence over a third degree murder conviction handed down yesterday in the 2001 slaying.
After eight hours of deliberation over two days, a six-man, six-woman jury returned the verdict as Ms. Weimer flung herself backward in her chair and wailed, then pointed to Connellsville Police Detective Ronald Haggerty Jr., lead detective, and said, “He did it.”
Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon, tried the case that has remained unsolved since the 21-year-old Mr. Haith was found beaten and shot outside his Connellsville apartment in January 2001.
The case was mired by witnesses with criminal records trying to earn favor with prosecutors whose voracity was repeatedly challenged. There was also a dispute from two forensic odontologists about whether a bite mark on Mr. Haith’s arm came from Ms. Weimer.
But to Ms. Vernon, the case turned on Ms. Weimer’s statements and courtroom demeanor.
“I knew she’d convict herself.” said Ms.Vernon,
Ms. Vernon confirmed she offered Ms. Weimer a two-to-four year sentence if she accepted responsibility for her role in the killing and named her alleged co-conspirators. Since she would not cooperate, Ms. Vernon said the blood evidence collected in the case has been submitted to a national DNA database.
Jury Foreman Chris Yeager agreed with the prosecutor, saying the 29-year-old mother of three disgusted the jury by frequently mouthing the words “I’m innocent” to them in the face of what the jury believed was strong eyewitness testimony. Mr. Yeager also felt Ms. Weimer’s periodic emotional outbursts seemed contrived to himself and the rest of the jury.
Mr. Yeager said the panel disregarded the testimony of the bite mark experts because the two experts could not agree.
He said the jury was swayed by the testimony of Joseph Stenger, Ms. Weimer’s co-defendant, who testified under a deal that he was with her and two unknown black males when they beat and killed Mr. Haith in retaliation for an assault on Ms. Weimer.
After the jury rendered its verdict, Mr. Haith’s mother wept softly and refused comment while his cousin, Jaimie Polk wept tears of joy, looked up and raised her hands towards the sky.
Mr. Haith’s sister, Michelle, 28, described her deceased brother as gentle and protective of his siblings: “I prayed to God every night that she’d be found guilty,” said Ms. Haith.
Across the room, Colletta Weimer, the defendant’s sister, sobbed, “I love you, Crystal, ” crying so hysterically that court personnel removed her from the room.
While Ms. Weimer’s conviction temporarily puts an end to another element of this long-running drama, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Beverly Ashton said the investigation “absolutely won’t be done” until the two alleged accomplices responsible for Curtis Haith’s murder have been found and convicted.