The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 4, 2012

TESTIMONY BEGINS IN MADISON MURDER TRIAL

Victim killed with screwdriver, cash box leads to suspects

By MARGIE NETZEL - mnetzel@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

PAINESVILLE — Eleanor Robertson was a fixture at the Geneva Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

At 77 years old, Robertson was a “tireless volunteer” with the women’s auxiliary, selling thousands of 50/50 raffle tickets to benefit the post’s many charitable projects, friend Lois Lippart testified in Danna Weimer’s aggravated murder trial in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday.

With raffle tickets comes dollars and change, so Robertson often had her trusty gray cash box with her. The gray cash box is like any other cash box, except for the name “E. Robertson” written in permanent marker on the bottom.

It was that cash box that led officers to believe Danna Weimer, 52, and her son Zachary Weimer, 22, had something to do with Robertson’s death, Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson said.

“This (cash box) cracked the case,” Coulson said in his opening arguments. “That name in marker, ‘E. Robertson,’ that got officers thinking. It piqued their interest. It tied Danna and Zachary to a burglary that then tied them to a murder.”

Dressed in dark clothing and with her long hair in a bun, Danna Weimer sat motionless as Coulson and defense attorney Aaron T. Baker argued for and against her innocence.

Coulson said Robertson was stabbed 94 times — likely with a screwdriver — her home was ransacked, her valuables taken and her mini van missing. The front door was barricaded with furniture and the garage door opener disconnected. After a brief message left on Lippart’s answering machine about raffle tickets, no one would hear from Robertson again.

Neighbors became anxious when the usually very meticulous Robertson left her garage door open while her van was gone. They noted that she didn’t answer her phone and her answering machine wasn’t working. The front door, usually open when Robertson was home, was closed and the drapes on the windows drawn tight.

“This was all very much out of the ordinary in this neighborhood,” Coulson said. “As the day wore on, different neighbors became concerned.”

By evening, two neighbors had gained entry to the house by way of the window, only to find the home ransacked and Robertson missing.

Even before Lake County crime scene investigators discovered Robertson’s body under a mattress and pile of clothing, Euclid Police Officer Don Ivory had arrested Danna and Zachary Weimer outside a cash-for-gold business in Euclid and had inventoried hundreds of items, much of it Robertson’s, in Danna Weimer’s vehicle.

By 10 p.m. on June 13, with both Weimers in jail for drug and weapons charges, the officers would make a grisly discovery — Robertson’s body had been in the bedroom all along.

Weimer faces 17 charges  — ranging from aggravated murder and aggravated burglary to tampering with evidence and receiving stolen property, in Robertson’s brutal murder.

Her son, Zachary Weimer, 22, of Geneva faces the same 17 counts. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13. Both have pleaded not guilty, court records show.

Coulson said the state has extensive evidence against Danna Weimer, including an electronic footprint, cell phone messages and text messages, video surveillance from Danna Weimer’s own home, Robertson’s property in Weimer’s car and her burned property in a burn pile at Weimer’s home, letters Danna Weimer wrote to her son while they were both incarcerated, and testimony from neighbors, inmates and the Weimer’s friends.

“(Danna) was in this up to her neck with (Zachary),” Coulson said. “They were in this together. They were partners in crime.”

Baker said “objective electronic evidence” made through “pings” on local cellular towers, along with the very video surveillance at Danna Weimer’s home, creates a timeline that excludes Danna from her son’s criminal activities.

“The state will rely on drug addicts and convicted felons to make their case,” Baker said. “This was a case of indict first, ask questions later.”

Baker said Danna had no reason to believe the items she was trying to help her son sell were stolen, that prescription drugs and stolen property in a safe at her home may have been placed there by someone else, and that a lack of physical evidence — along with a clear timeline supported by cell phone records and video surveillance — will show a clear story.

“Keep an open mind throughout this case,” he told the jury. “This is a complicated indictment. The state wants you to convict Danna Weimer without a single person to put her at the scene of the crime and with a timeline that says she couldn’t have been there.”

Coulson said Danna essentially “drove the getaway car” for Zachary, implicating herself in Robertson’s death with her complicity.

“No one is going to say that this woman plunged that screwdriver into Eleanor 94 times,” he said. “No one is going to saw we found (Danna’s) blood or her fingerprints, no one is going to say that. But she is just as responsible in the death of Eleanor Robertson as her son is.”