Murder Case Hinges on a Bite and Lies
By Bill Moushey, Bridget DiCosmo and Elizabeth Perry
No one at an early morning party in Uniontown just before Curtis Haith was murdered said Thomas Beal was there, but 10 months later he cut a deal for freedom with prosecutors, stating he saw Crystal Weimer commit the killing, but later recanted.
Two years and seven months after Mr. Beal was discredited and charges were dropped against Ms. Weimer, another two-bit criminal named Joseph Stenger came forward claiming he helped the then 24-year-old woman kill Mr. Haith over a supposed rape, though she denied everything, and his story would change six times.
Armed with those controversial statements and forensic evidence suggesting Ms. Weimer bit the dead man on the hand during an attack, prosecutors quickly re-filed charges against her, which almost five years after Mr. Haith’s death, are expected to be put before a jury beginning Monday.
That is when Ms. Weimer hopes she can prove she had nothing to do with the killing, something she has maintained since police first questioned her the morning after Mr. Haith was found beaten to death and shot in the face.
“Everyone knows I’m innocent,” Ms. Weimer, said in a recent telephone interview from the Fayette County Jail where she has been confined in pre-trial detention for the past 18 months.
Neither Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon nor Ms. Weimer’s attorney or police officials involved in the investigation would comment or answer questions about the five year old case.
As a result, the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, a journalism program where students investigate allegations of wrongful convictions and abuses in the justice system in a partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, pieced together evidence by scrutinizing police reports, court documents, and interviewing anyone that could be found with direct knowledge of the case.
Life has been difficult for Ms. Weimer and her three sisters since their mother lost custody, causing them to be passed through foster homes and facilities during their teenage years.
As she moved into adulthood, Ms. Weimer, 29, was convicted in a string of forgery and retail theft charges starting at the age of 18. While living in a succession of public housing projects, Ms. Weimer produced three children through a relationship that like many others in her life did not endure.
On Friday, January 26, 2001 Ms. Weimer and a dozen or so friends including Mr. Haith drank beer at their mother’s house in Uniontown until about 11:30 p.m. when she decided to ride along with one of the partiers to drive Mr. Haith 12 miles away to Connellsville.
Ms. Weimer and several of the guests said the entire trip took less than an hour, and they returned before 12:30 a.m. On her return, Ms. Weimer said she got into a knock-down, drag-out fight with a jealous boyfriend. By the time it was over, she had bitten her boyfriend on the hand, she suffered a blackened eye and a broken toe, leaving her clothes splattered with blood and mud from the melee.
Down the road in Connellsville, police reports say Mr. Haith partied at a bar until 2:00 a.m., then invited some of the patrons to his nearby apartment. The final couple left Mr. Haith’s about 4:30 a.m. Twenty minutes later, a neighbor called police reporting frantic screams from the dwelling. Police found Mr. Haith beaten to death with a gunshot wound to the face in a lot next to his apartment.
A sweatshirt and bandana were found at the scene, but DNA from them was not matched with Ms. Weimer or anyone else. Initial reports say no murder weapon or other forensic evidence was recovered.
While several individuals told police Mr. Haith’s death might be drug-related, police focused on Ms. Weimer as a suspect because she was with him for part of the last night of his life, because of the injuries she had suffered in the fight with her boyfriend and because police heard rumors that Mr. Haith had assaulted her sexually within the previous year.
Ms. Weimer told police the sexual assault allegation was not true. She denied any involvement and said they were back in Uniontown hours before Mr. Haith was killed. She produced several alibis to prove it, though some of them were relatives.
Nonetheless, police seized her bloody, mud-caked clothing for DNA and other forensic testing. The blood belonged to the boyfriend, who confirmed the fight with Ms. Weimer to police.
Still focused on Ms. Weimer as a suspect despite numerous reports suggesting others may have committed the murder, the investigation languished for almost 10 months until police found Mr. Beal, a jailed ex-boyfriend of Ms. Weimer who was looking for a deal.
Mr. Beal reiterated the rape allegation that Ms. Weimer had already denied and said she confessed the killing to him. He also implicated Ms. Weimer’s other boyfriend who beat her that night.
While Mr. Beal’s story was plausible, they asked the Pennsylvania State Police’s cold case squad for help to examine autopsy photographs for other hints. That’s when a state trooper noticed an apparent bruise on autopsy photographs of Mr. Haith’s hand, concluding it may be a bite mark. A Fayette County dentist made molds of Ms. Weimer’s teeth and compared the marks they made with the photographs on Mr. Haith’s hand, but could not say with scientific certainty the bite came from Ms. Weimer.
Then the photos were sent to a Connecticut based bite mark expert named Dr. Constantine Karazulas, a forensic odontologist. After using Ms. Weimer’s dental mold to create a bruise on his own arm and comparing it with the photographs during a two week process, he concluded Ms. Weimer bit Mr. Haith just before his death.
Dr. George Gould, a forensic odontologist who has worked for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s department and others, did not dispute Dr. Karazulas’ claims, but said in such a case, the entire scientific process rests with the quality of the photographs taken of the injury. With regular crime scene pictures like those taken in Mr. Haith’s murder, he said it may be difficult to distinguish individual teeth impressions or determine the actual time of the injury without biological testing, which was not done in Mr. Haith’s case.
As police were closing in on her, she agreed to take a polygraph, but later refused it on the advice of a lawyer. Shortly thereafter, she was charged with criminal homicide.
At a preliminary hearing, Mr. Beal recanted his story, stating he was pressured by police who gave him freedom from a variety of assault and related charges in exchange for his testimony.
At the end of the hearing, a Fayette County judge declared a lack of evidence, dismissed all charges against Ms. Weimer and released her.
While Ms. Weimer thought the nightmare was over, two days later in October 2004, Mr. Stenger, another jailhouse snitch, told police he was involved in the killing and agreed to testify against Ms. Weimer if he got a deal too. Police granted his wish and re-filed charges against her.
Police reports document six different variations of Mr. Stenger’s story that came from him, his mother and several others.
There was the story from Mr. Stenger, who has an extensive record for robbery and theft, that he helped Mr. Beal and Ms. Weimer commit the murder. Then, he said he only disposed of the gun and clothing. His mother told police he was an innocent bystander who watched, terrified, as Ms. Weimer beat Mr. Haith. Then when police questioned how a diminutive woman like Ms. Weimer could take down the 300-pound Mr. Haith, Mr. Stenger added two more accomplices to the conspiracy. Later Mr. Stenger told his mother the story was a lie. At the hearing, Mr. Stenger suggested he may have shot Mr. Haith accidentally while firing his gun in an effort to stop the attack. More recently, other jailhouse informers say he has bragged about killing Mr. Haith himself and setting up Ms. Weimer.
While Tom Schaffer, defense attorney at the time for Ms. Weimer, argued Mr. Stenger totally lacked credibility, a judge used the report from Dr. Karazulas and Mr. Stenger’s testimony to hold her for trial.
Ms. Weimer remains in disbelief that any credence was put in Mr. Stenger’s testimony. Aside from the questions about his story, he could not identify the type of car used in the murder, the gun he says was tossed into a pond but was never found and his descriptions of the crime contained no mention of any biting or other injuries suffered by Ms. Weimer.
Mr. Stenger also had trouble accounting for his statement that he chatted with Ms. Weimer about the murder the next day at her house at a time when she was already in police custody.
In several telephone conversations from jail, Ms. Weimer said she barely knew the dead man, that he did not rape her, she did not bite him or have anything to do with Mr. Haith’s death.
She says she has numerous alibi witnesses – albeit several from her family – willing to testify she was not in the same town as Mr. Haith when he was murdered.
“I have three precious girls who need me and I’m stuck in this basement for something I didn’t do,” said Ms. Weimer.
In recent months, Ms Weimer said she was offered a sentence of three years in prison if she pleads guilty to a lesser charge and takes responsibility for the crime. She refused because she claims innocence, something she hopes to prove beginning tomorrow.
This story was written by Bridget DiCosmo and Elizabeth Perry, graduate students at Point Park University with help from Post-Gazette Staff Writer Bill Moushey, director of the Innocence Institute. All of them can be reached at 412-765-3164. E-mail can be sent to: Bmoushey@pointpark.edu.