Merged charges reveal tactics
- Janine Robben
- Portland Tribune - News
Girls' causes of death, other details not given in Weaver indictment
Clackamas County prosecutors have thrown everything they have against Ward Weaver into a single indictment that may give them tactical advantages at trial.
The indictment, which merges charges against Weaver for the deaths of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis with allegations involving his alleged rape of his son's girlfriend, answers some questions about the case.
But it also raises new questions, especially about how the state plans to prove that Weaver sexually abused both Ashley and Miranda on the days they died.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty on the indictment's charges of aggravated murder, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said Friday. Whether Weaver actually will be sentenced to death if convicted of one or more of those charges will be up to a jury. Foote estimated that it could be a year before the case actually goes to trial.
Weaver, through his attorney, entered a plea of not guilty to the indictment, and the case was continued to Oct. 28 for further legal proceedings.
The 17-count indictment alleges that Weaver, 39, sexually abused and attempted to rape 12-year-old Ashley Pond last year, then killed her on Jan. 9 Ñ the day she was reported missing Ñ in the course of sexually abusing her. The indictment also charges Weaver with abusing Ashley's corpse, apparently by relocating it.
The indictment accuses Weaver of killing 13-year-old Miranda Gaddis on March 8, the day she disappeared, also in the course of sexually abusing her, and of abusing her corpse, apparently by relocating it.
Weaver also is charged with sexually abusing another minor female July 17, and, on Aug. 13, sexually assaulting and attempting to murder the 19-year-old girlfriend of his son, Francis Weaver. Neither of those alleged victims is listed as having testified before the grand jury.
Francis Weaver's girlfriend had testified before another grand jury that previously returned a separate indictment for that incident. That indictment, which did not include the new charge of attempted aggravated murder, was dismissed Friday.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Horner could not be reached for comment Monday on why neither alleged victim testified before the grand jury that returned the new indictment or what evidence may have been developed to support the new charge of attempted aggravated murder in the incident with Francis Weaver's girlfriend.
The merger of separate incidents into a single indictment may be seen by prosecutors as giving them a tactical advantage at trial, according to Stephen Kanter, professor of law at Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College.
'If there's weakness in any one incident (charged in the indictment), evidence of other incidents might tend to bolster it,' said Kanter, speaking generally and not about the Weaver case in particular.
Kanter said prosecutors generally prefer to try all possible charges together versus defense attorneys who would rather 'focus the decision maker on one issue at a time,' he said. 'The defense might not want to have the jury have an overall bad view of the (defendant).'
Weaver's attorneys still will have the opportunity to argue that the incidents charged in the single indictment should be separated for trial.
Some questions answered
By implication, the new indictment answers some basic questions about the evidence against Weaver, which has not yet been made public.
Based on the dates alleged in the indictment, the state will seek to prove that both girls were killed on the same days their mothers reportedly last saw them at their Newell Creek Village apartment complex behind Weaver's rental house in Oregon City.
It also will argue that Weaver abused the girls' corpses by relocating them to the spots where they were found on Aug. 24 and Aug. 25 Ñ Miranda's in a shed behind his house, Ashley's in a barrel buried beneath a concrete pad, also behind the house. The indictment alleges that the abuse of Ashley's corpse took place on or between her death on Jan. 9 and March 15 Ñ the date Weaver is believed to have poured the concrete pad beneath which her remains were found.
The indictment alleges that the abuse of Miranda's corpse took place between her death on March 8 and Aug. 13, the date Weaver was arrested and taken into custody for the alleged attack on his son's girlfriend.
The indictment's use of that date range for Miranda suggests that the state will offer evidence her body was put in the shed by Weaver himself and not by another person with access to his property after he was arrested.
With the exception of Aug. 14, when police searched the property for evidence of the alleged rape, police left the property unsecured for the 10-day period between Aug. 13 and Aug. 23, when they prepared for the search in which the girls' bodies were found. Numerous people were on the property during that period, including members of Weaver's family, the media and the community, and several people are known to have gone in the shed where Miranda's body was found.
New questions surface
However, the indictment Ñ which will, for Weaver and his attorney, be supplemented by copies of police reports Ñ also leaves some basic questions unanswered and even raises new ones. These questions include:
• Were the girls killed at Weaver's house on South Beavercreek Road in Oregon City or at another location or locations? The indictment alleges only that both deaths occurred in Clackamas County.
• What were the causes of death? The indictment alleges only that both deaths were intentionally caused. The FBI previously has said that both girls died of 'homicidal violence' but said it would not provide further details.
• How did Weaver get control of the girls on the days they died? The indictment does not include any charges of kidnapping. But Ashley Pond's mother, Lori Pond, previously has said she told her daughter to stay away from Weaver after Ashley accused him of sexually abusing her sometime before early September 2001.
• Without Ashley as a witness, what admissible evidence will prosecutors offer to prove the indictment's allegations that Weaver sexually abused her and attempted to rape her sometime between April 15, 2001, and Sept. 1, 2001?
• Without Ashley and Miranda as witnesses, what evidence will prosecutors offer to prove the indictment's allegations that Weaver killed both of them in the course of sexually abusing them on the days they died and to conceal that abuse?