The Washington Post

Attorneys argue abduction conviction should be tossed

A Charlottesville area judge heard arguments Wednesday about whether she should take the unusual step of setting aside a jury’s guilty verdict in the case of a Montgomery County native convicted of abducting a woman with intent to defile last May.

Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins said she would issue a ruling on June 3 on whether such a move is within the scope of her powers at this point in the proceedings.

Mark Weiner, 53, has not been sentenced yet for the crime, but the jury has recommended a 20-year prison term.

Defense attorneys argued the court should hear evidence never considered by the jury. They say it shows not only that their client is innocent but also that the crime never occurred.

They say an analysis of cellphone data indicates it is unlikely the woman was ever at an abandoned house where she testified she was forcibly taken on a December night in 2012.

Chelsea Steiniger said that Weiner, a stranger, had offered to give her a ride home but then drugged her by placing a ­chemical-soaked bandanna over her mouth.

She sent a handful of texts narrating the abduction and testified that Weiner used her phone to send taunting messages to her boyfriend while she was unconscious.

She testified that she awoke in the abandoned house and escaped by leaping from a balcony when Weiner stepped out for a moment.

“It’s all lies,” defense attorney Steven D. Benjamin told the court. “It was implausible to begin with.”

Benjamin said Steiniger’s phone repeatedly contacted a cell tower near the apartment where she stayed with her mother but never pinged off a tower 400 yards from the abandoned house during the time of the abduction.

In addition, they say records show that Steiniger made and received calls, and accessed her voicemail during a time she testified that her phone was dead. They also said that Steiniger’s story had changed in different tellings and that an anesthesiologist said it was impossible she was drugged in the manner she claims.

Albemarle County prosecutor Denise Lunsford told the judge that the issues Weiner raises should be taken up after the sentencing. She disputed the cellphone evidence and the other claims.

She said the jury had arrived at the proper decision.

“In the opinion of 12 people who heard the evidence and in the opinion of the police, Mr. Weiner is guilty,” Lunsford told the judge.

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