The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 25, 2012

Evidence of murder

Building case against Weimers took investigators months

Star Beacon

PAINESVILLE —  In boxes, in bags, tucked into manila folders and heavy envelopes, sealed for safety, were more than 50 bags of evidence in the murder trials of Zachary and Danna Weimer.

But using the evidence to convict the mother and son  was a labor of love for Lake County investigators, Lake County assistant prosecuting attorney Mark Bartolotta said.

“It is a lot of evidence,” he said. “And the defense would have you believe this was some sort of witch hunt — that we went back and back to the scene of this crime until we found something, anything to link the suspects to the murder. In the end, it was about what was there and what was found, no matter how long it took to find it.”

Zachary Weimer, 23, and his mother, Danna Weimer, 54, have been convicted of aggravated murder, burglary and receiving stolen property in the June stabbing of 77-year-old Eleanor Robertson. Danna Weimer’s October trial included seven days of testimony. Zachary’s trial last week included four full days of testimony.

He will be sentenced by Judge Vincent Culotta on Dec. 17, court records show. Danna Weimer will be sentenced by Judge Eugene Lucci on Dec. 12.

Bartolotta said the investigation and trial came at a hefty expense, as forensic specialists worked to gather and process each individual piece of evidence, including sending two pet hairs to a lab in California for DNA analysis.

Crime scene investigators found two pet hairs on Robertson’s clothing. Because Robertson didn’t own a pet, the two hairs, along with the fur samples and cheek swab samples of pets in both Zachary and Danna Weimer’s homes, were sent for analysis.

“The results of those findings did not match the Weimers’ pets to the hairs on the victim,” Bartolotta said, “but no way would we overlook what could have been a piece of significant evidence. Not in a case of this magnitude and not in any case.”

In fact, Lake County Crime Laboratory forensic investigator David Green testified he spent three months working exclusively on the Robertson murder.

“This isn’t like the oh-so-realistic TV shows where they just go in and find the evidence and it’s over,” he said.

Furniture, walls, countertops and even cereal bar wrappers, from bars taken from the victim’s home and found in the suspects’ home, were fingerprinted for evidence.

Scot Robertson, son of Eleanor Robertson, said his mother’s minivan could not be returned to the family because of the chemicals used to lift fingerprints and other trace evidence.

“I can’t imagine the stuff they had to use to get fingerprints and other evidence from that van, but I can understand why they couldn’t return it to us,” he said. “There is one chair in the house that is literally glowing green with the chemicals they had to use to try to get evidence off of it.”

But even with hundreds of pieces of evidence, including items stolen from Robertson’s home, her minivan and a pair of shoe prints that almost perfectly match Zachary Weimer’s size 11 1/2 “Air Force One” Nike brand shoes, the case was no “slam dunk,”  Lake County assistant prosecuting attorney Karen Kowall said.

“The evidence was largely circumstantial,” she said. “(Zachary’s) case could have gone either way.”

Bartolotta said the prosecution works with the evidence it has, giving a jury all the information it can — from shoe prints to cell phone tower records.

“Just because someone was in a house or a room doesn’t necessarily mean that they will leave behind a hair or a fingerprint,” Bartolotta said. “We hope that if there is a fingerprint or a shoe print or something that we can find it, because the evidence is great — it has immense value in a trial.”

“And we go after every piece of evidence, every single piece — even if it means doing a DNA test on a couple of cats and dogs. It might sound like a lot of work, but it’s worth every bit to catch a killer,” he said.