Fayette judge grants convicted killer new trial after forensic dentist calls own testimony 'junk science'
A former Connellsville woman serving up to 30 years in state prison for a 2001 homicide was granted a new trial Thursday because a forensic dentist whose testimony on bite-mark analysis helped convict her called it “junk science” during a hearing.
Fayette County Judge John Wagner said he had “no problem” granting a new trial for Crystal D. Weimer, 38, who is serving 15 to 30 years for her role in the January 2001 death of Curtis Haith, whose badly beaten body was found outside his apartment with a gunshot wound in the face.
Wagner vacated Weimer's 2006 conviction on third-degree homicide and criminal conspiracy charges, as well as her prison sentence. Weimer has a right to a new trial within 120 days, he said.
District Attorney Jack Heneks could not be reached for comment on whether his office plans to refile the charges.
After listening to testimony from Dr. Constantine Karazulas of Bridgeport, Conn., during the 40-minute hearing, the judge said the dentist could not testify to a reasonable scientific degree of certainty about the validity of bite-mark analysis.
Karazulas said advances in scientific knowledge since the 2006 trial have rendered bite-mark analysis essentially “junk science” and that now he would not analyze bite marks or render an opinion on comparisons.
During Weimer's trial, Karazulas testified that a bite mark on Haith's hand matched the dental impression that Weimer gave police. His testimony, along with that of alleged accomplice Joseph C. Stenger, 32, of Everson helped convict her.
Stenger claimed Weimer lured Haith outside to be beaten by two unidentified black men, but Assistant District Attorney Anthony Iannamorelli Jr. said Thursday that Stenger has changed his story a number of times.
Karazulas told the judge he started to doubt the validity of bite-mark analysis in 2008 when the National Academy of Science found the technology is not scientific and that several people among a group of 100 might produce the same bite mark.
Weimer's attorney, Jeff Bresh, said after the hearing that he was prepared to call 12 witnesses to testify during a two-day hearing. But once Karazulas said he wouldn't testify to the validity of the science of bite-mark analysis, “it was game, set, match.” Bresh, of Pittsburgh, is handling the case pro-bono for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.
Bresh asked that Weimer be released on unsecured bond. Wagner said he would consider bond, but she will be returned to the State Correctional Institution-Cambridge Springs until that issue is decided.
Iannamorelli said he will talk to Heneks before deciding whether to oppose unsecured bond.
After Weimer filed her own petition for a new trial, her case was taken up by the Innocence Project this spring, said Nilam Sanghvi, a senior attorney for the Philadelphia-based group.
Weimer was charged with homicide twice in Haith's death. The first charges were dropped in April 2004 when Judge Ralph C. Warman ruled the state didn't produce enough evidence to establish its case. Charges were refiled in September 2004, shortly after Stenger pled guilty to a conspiracy to commit homicide and agreed to assist prosecutors.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.