The Washington Post

Abduction conviction stands for Montgomery native, who says phone records clear him

A Charlottesville area judge denied a motion by a Montgomery County native to consider setting aside his conviction for abducting a woman with intent to defile.

Mark Weiner, 53, says he is innocent and the crime never occurred, but Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins ruled that she did not have the authority to overturn the jury’s verdict at this point in the legal proceedings.

Weiner was convicted in May 2013 of drugging a woman and taking her to an abandoned home in the Charlottesville area in December 2012. He has not been sentenced.

New attorneys for Weiner argue that cellphone data show that the woman could not have been where she claimed to be that night. They say that the attorney who represented Weiner should have introduced the evidence at trial and did not effectively represent him.

“We are just outraged a man’s innocence is not relevant here,” Weiner’s brother Michael said after the hearing. “It goes to the fabric of our community.”

The judge set a July 22 hearing for Weiner’s sentencing, but one of his attorneys, Steven D. Benjamin, said he will continue to fight to prove his client’s innocence. He said they could file an appeal or a habeas corpus petition.

Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford disputes the defense’s interpretation of the cellphone data and call records. She has argued that the jury reached the correct verdict in the case.

Weiner’s attorneys say the woman, Chelsea Steiniger, invented the story of her abduction because she was angry with her boyfriend.

Steiniger testified at trial that Weiner offered her a ride in Charlottesville one night in December 2012.

But instead of taking the then-20-year-old home, Weiner drove her around and then clapped a chemical-soaked cloth over her mouth, causing her to pass out, Steiniger said. She later narrated part of the abduction with text messages.

She awoke in an abandoned house to the sound of Weiner punching the keys on her cellphone, Steiniger said. Prosecutors said that Weiner was sending taunting texts to her boyfriend about what he was going to do to her.

Steiniger said she escaped by leaping off a balcony when Weiner stepped outside.

Weiner’s attorneys say cellphone data show Steiniger’s cellphone was pinging off a tower close to her mother’s apartment during the abduction but not off a tower 400 yards from the abandoned house.

They say records also show she made calls during a period when she claimed her phone’s battery had died.



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