Conviction: Murder, Conspiracy
Number of years spent wrongfully imprisoned: 11
Age at the time of conviction: 28
On the night of Jan. 26, 2001, Curtis Haith, 21, attended a party in Uniontown, just an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh, at the home of Crystal Weimer’s older sister, Carla.
When Haith wanted to leave the party around 10 o’clock, Crystal, 23, and her cousin drove him to his home in Connellsville. After being dropped off, Haith went to a cafe with some friends until closing. The group then went back to Haith’s house, and his friends left just after 4 a.m.
Soon after, Haith’s neighbors heard a gunshot and cries for help. The neighbors called police, and when they arrived, the officers found Haith dead — he had been beaten and shot.
Haith died from blunt force trauma to the head. He also had a bite mark on his arm that would later become central in the case. Police questioned Crystal the same day Haith was found, and did DNA testing on her clothing, which was stained with mud and blood. None of the blood matched Haith’s, but instead belonged to Crystal’s boyfriend.
Crystal said she and her boyfriend had gotten into a fight at her sister’s party around 4 a.m., the same time as the murder at Haith’s home in Connellsville. Others corroborated Crystal’s alibi, saying they remembered seeing the couple fighting at the party. Police did not look to Crystal again as a suspect until 2002 when her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Beal — who was being arrested on a separate charge — told police that Crystal and her current boyfriend both had killed Haith.
When her boyfriend was subsequently questioned, he told police he wasn’t involved in the murder; but also mentioned Crystal had gotten into a physical altercation with Haith the day before the murder.
Additionally, a year later in 2003, an inmate gave detectives a letter allegedly written by a fellow inmate named Joseph Stenger, claiming it was actually Beal and Crystal who killed Haith. Stenger later claimed he himself was at the scene when Haith was killed, but denied being the shooter. Stenger’s story would later change more than a dozen times.
Following these events, Crystal was arrested in January 2004 on charges of third-degree murder, two counts of conspiracy and two counts of aggravated assault.
Soon after similar charges were brought against Stenger and he changed his story again, claiming Beal wasn’t present at the murder scene, and instead, that two Black men were with him and Crystal. The two Black men allegedly beat Haith with a baseball bat and crowbar.
The prosecution’s theory was that Haith had previously beaten up Crystal and she was seeking retaliation.
But in April 2004, the charges were dropped because Beal recanted his statement implicating Crystal. However, in September of the same year, Crystal was again arrested and charged when Stenger agreed to testify against her in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Crystal went to trial in 2006 and was wrongfully convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy to commit homicide.
An influential piece of evidence in Crystal’s conviction was the expert testimony of Dr. Constantine Karazulas, who claimed the bite mark on Haith’s arm definitively belonged to Crystal. At the time of the investigation, Crystal had agreed to get dental molds done. These molds were sent to a periodontist who compared them to photos of the bite mark on Haith’s arm; but the periodontist couldn’t reach any conclusions.
Photos of the molds and the bite mark were then sent to Dr. Karazulas, the chief forensic odontologist for the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Lab. He claimed the bite marks were made within a half hour of the murder — although his exact estimate changed throughout the case — and that they were a perfect match to Crystal’s mold.
Dr. Karazulas’s testimony relied on junk science, including an instance in which he bit himself to show the jury the healing process of a bite mark. Years later, Dr. Karazula even recanted his own testimony.
At trial, there were also jailhouse informants who claimed Crystal had told them she was involved in the murder. The informants confused facts and timelines throughout their testimonies. It was later discovered that the informants wrote letters to the prosecution asking for favorable treatment; if these letters were available to the defense at the original trial they could have been used to show the informant testimonies were false.
Crystal would remain wrongfully imprisoned for 11 years based on false statements like these several people — from ex-boyfriends to jailhouse informants to supposed experts.
Crystal tried to clear her name throughout her imprisonment. In 2007, when the state Superior Court upheld her convictions, she filed several motions for post-conviction relief. But all of these motions were denied.
In December 2014, Stenger admitted to Crystal’s lawyers that his testimony was false; he said police coached him through his story, and he made up the two Black men who he had said helped in the attack.
In February 2015, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which was later joined by Jones Day Law Firm, filed a motion for a new trial for Crystal, citing the recantations of Stenger and Dr. Karazula, as well as the evidence showing the bite mark science was invalid. The team had also uncovered the informant letters to the prosecution asking for favorable treatment.
On October 1, 2015, a new trial was ordered and Weimer was released on bond. Then in December of that year, Crystal’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss the charges altogether because Stenger refused to testify at the new trial, asserting his 5th Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself.
Bedford County Senior Judge Daniel Lee Howsare would not allow the prosecution to use Stenger’s 2006 testimony at the retrial because Stenger could not be cross-examined about his recantation. This left insufficient evidence for the state to continue with its prosecution of Crystal.
In June 2016, all charges were dropped against Crystal. And in September 2017, Crystal filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county and police officers involved in her case.
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