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Trial opens in beating death

| Tuesday, April 4, 2006

When Connellsville police questioned Crystal D. Weimer within 11 hours of the beating death of her friend, she gave two stories about her facial bruises and a broken toe.

A third version -- offered by an alleged accomplice to Curtis Haith's killing -- outlined a purported attack on Weimer by Haith that supposedly provoked her retaliation.

But Weimer's defense attorneys insist that the alleged accessory, Joseph C. Stenger, molded his story until he received a plea deal for his testimony against her.

Fayette County prosecutors opened their case Monday against Weimer, 28, of Connellsville, for the Jan. 27, 2001, killing of Haith. Weimer is charged with criminal homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide.

Based on the expected testimony of Stenger, District Attorney Nancy Vernon told jurors yesterday that Weimer lured Haith, 21, from his Sycamore Street apartment before 5 a.m. to a fatal thumping in the snow and mud by two unidentified black men.

Only Weimer and Stenger have been charged in the case.

Stenger pleaded guilty in September 2004 to conspiracy to commit homicide, but the prosecution's sentence recommendation of 9 to 18 years is contingent upon his cooperation. He has a history of convictions for robberies, thefts and burglaries in Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

Prosecutors believe they have more than just Stenger's testimony to show Weimer's guilt.

An odontologist is scheduled to testify Wednesday about bite marks on Haith's hand that he claims came from Weimer's teeth less than 20 minutes before Haith's death.

City police also determined that dirt on Weimer's coat and pants hours after the killing matched soil samples taken from Haith's yard, according to court records.

A now-retired detective lieutenant, Thomas Cesario, testified yesterday that Weimer said Haith was at her relative's home in South Union Township on Jan. 26, 2001, before she and another man drove Haith to a birthday party in Connellsville. Weimer told Cesario she then returned to South Union.

Weimer's face was swollen and she was walking with a limp, but she gave differing stories about the causes of the injuries, according to Cesario.

In one story, Weimer said she was at the South Union home of her sister, Cynthia, and was beaten by Cynthia's boyfriend.

Later in the same conversation, Weimer said she was at the same public housing complex, but at the home of another sister, Carla. In that instance, Weimer's then-boyfriend and another man were "fooling around and fell on her," Cesario said she told him.

The men then grabbed her toe and broke it, Cesario said.

"It was shortly after," Cesario said of the switch from the initial explanation of the injuries. "Within the next few minutes."

In his opening argument, Chief Public Defender Jeffrey Whiteko told jurors that the investigating officers have continued to focus on Weimer although there's nothing to connect her to a killing.

Whiteko said evidence by the odontologist, who works for the Connecticut State Police, will not be substantiated, leaving prosecutors to rely on the testimony of a convicted felon.

Stenger gave authorities at least five different stories, flipping from his having no involvement to having fired a nonlethal shot into Haith's face, according to Whiteko.

"If this doesn't cause you to hesitate, then there is no case that will," he said.

Testimony before Judge John F. Wagner Jr. will resume at 9 a.m. today.

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