On the morning of April 22, 2015, one sorority sister after another opened the bathroom door and recoiled in disgust.
The toilet at Muskingum University’s Delta Gamma Theta house was splattered with blood.
Suspecting that it was a feminine hygiene issue, the sorority’s house manager texted everyone living in the building that whoever was responsible needed to come clean up her mess.
“It looks like a murder scene,” the manager wrote.
She had no idea how right she was.
That night, four Deltas went out for ice cream in the small college town of New Concord, Ohio. Instead of school, however, all they could talk about was Emile Weaver. The 20-year-old had put on weight recently and begun to act strangely, giving rise to rumors among her sorority sisters that Weaver was secretly pregnant.
Now there was the blood in the bathroom.
One of the Deltas had a horrible hunch.
She and a sorority sister went outside to the house’s garbage bin. On the ground, they found a trash bag.
They tore a hole.
“We kept shaking the bag,” Madison Bates testified in court, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder. “And I saw a baby’s foot.”
That shocking discovery would uncover an even more startling crime.
Weaver was eventually arrested. According to prosecutors, she had hidden her pregnancy for nine months, all the while desperately trying to kill the baby she didn’t want. She drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and took scores of labor-inducing supplements.
She even played dodgeball.
“She wanted Addison dead,” Muskingum County Assistant Prosecutor Ron Welch said in court, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Whether it was during her pregnancy or after birth, it didn’t matter. She didn’t want the baby.”
When the baby somehow survived, Weaver took a more direct approach, cutting the umbilical cord herself before putting the newborn in a plastic bag, where the child suffocated to death, prosecutors said.
“No more baby,” she texted the man she thought was the father. “Taken care of.”
In May, an Ohio jury found Weaver guilty of aggravated murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence, according to the Associated Press.
On Monday, she was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The stiff sentence was also surprising, however, as it stood in sharp contrast to another, remarkably similar case from the same school.
In 2002, Muskingum student Jennifer “Nikki” Bryant wrapped her newborn in a blanket and put the baby in a trash can, where the child died. Bryant pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse. She was sentenced to three years in prison but only served seven months.
“There has been a lot of discussion within our community as to why this situation happened twice at the same institute of higher learning,” Dave Boyer, director of Muskingum County Children Services, told the Daily Mail. “It’s extremely hurtful.”
It’s unclear if Weaver was aware of Bryant’s ordeal on the same campus more than a decade earlier.
But Weaver’s attempts to echo Bryant’s defense — that she was unaware she was pregnant until she suddenly gave birth, and that she was sorry for what she had done — convinced neither judge nor jury.
Muskingum was founded in 1837 by Presbyterian Scotch-Irish settlers and is still affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, according to its website. The liberal arts and sciences college boasts nearly 2,000 students, roughly 30 percent of whom are in either fraternities or sororities, according to the site.
Weaver arrived on the picturesque campus in the fall of 2013 from the even smaller town of Clarington, population 384.
Her freshman year she rushed Delta Gamma Theta, one of five sororities on campus. A Twitter account under the name Emile Weaver! posted messages about tanning, taking exams, napping, football and drinking.
“The fact that I drank out of a blender bottle last night,” reads a Feb. 9, 2014 post that included laughing emojis.
For her sophomore year, Weaver moved into her sorority’s impressive stone house, dubbed “the castle.”
By then, however, she was already carrying a secret.
Secrets among the sisterhood
Delta Gamma Theta describes its Muskingum chapter as “a sisterhood dedicated to love and loyalty.”
But as the Ohio summer turned to fall and then winter, rumors began to spread among the sisters that one of them was keeping a secret.
Emile Weaver was pregnant, some whispered.
They cited her weight gain, baggier clothes and the strange way she always seemed to hold a pillow or stuffed animal in front of her, they later testified, according to the Times Recorder.
They were right. In early September of 2014, Weaver visited the university’s wellness center to obtain birth control. First, however, she had to take a pregnancy test.
When her test came back positive, however, Weaver didn’t respond to the clinic’s calls, voice mails or text messages, a nurse later testified, according to the Times Recorder.
Finally, the nurse sent Weaver a certified letter.
Weaver never replied.
She would later claim in court that she had been in denial about the pregnancy, according to the AP.
Sorority sisters would later recall her drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and playing in a dodgeball tournament.
When Weaver fell on her stomach during the tournament, sisters who had heard the pregnancy rumors grew worried, one testified, according to the Times Recorder.
By Spring 2015, some sorority sisters were looking for concrete proof that the rumors were true and Weaver was pregnant.
They would get it, in macabre fashion, on April 22.
‘It sounded like a dying cat’
Moriah Saer woke up early and walked down the Delta house stairs. The house was dark and quiet.
Then she heard it.
“Three or four cries … each about three seconds,” she later testified, according to the Times Recorder.
“It sounded like a dying cat,” Saer said.
She followed the terrifying sound toward its source. The noise was coming from the half-bathroom, under which Saer saw a light shining.
“I just assumed someone was on their phone in the bathroom playing a game or something,” she testified.
Later, when other sorority sisters would try to use the half-bathroom, they spotted blood. Enough people complained that the house manager sent out a text asking whoever was responsible to clean it up.
That night, the rumors about Weaver’s pregnancy widened into open conversation as four Deltas chatted over ice cream. They were pretty sure she was pregnant, and her behavior — drinking, smoking, sports — worried them, Madison Bates later testified.
“When we got back to the house, I suggested what if she threw [the baby] away,” Bates said in court, according to the Times Recorder. “They kind of thought it was a ridiculous idea, but Elise said she would go look, and I said I would go with her.”
Bates and Elise Zimmerman went outside to where the sorority kept its trash. The dumpster was empty, but there was a trash bag on the ground, Bates testified.
“Something wasn’t right,” Zimmerman recalled in court. “It was heavy.”
The women ripped a hole in the bag but only saw trash, at least at first.
Then Bates spotted the baby’s foot.
The startled women went inside to tell their fellow sorority sisters. Then Zimmerman went back out to look in the bag again. She collapsed and began to cry.
“She said she saw a baby,” Bates testified. “She said: ‘It has hair and eyes.'”
The four sorority sisters called the school’s director of Greek affairs, who called the police. When the Greek Affairs director arrived at the Delta house, she was surprised to see Weaver acting as if being interviewed by the police was no big deal.
“It was not what I was expecting,” Stacey Allan told prosecutors, according to the Times Recorder. “It was like it was an everyday occurrence for police to be at her house.”
Weaver had cut the baby’s umbilical cord with a knife from the sorority’s kitchen, then put the newborn and the placenta in the trash bag before putting the bag outside.
She acted coolly when texting the man she thought was the baby’s father. (DNA tests would later show he was not the father, according to the Dispatch.)
“No more baby,” Weaver texted the man shortly after disposing of the newborn.
“What,” he replied.
“No more baby,” she texted again.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Taken care of,” she answered, according to the New York Daily News. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I would like to know how you killed my kid,” he wrote.
‘What does genuine remorse look like?’
That night and the next day, Weaver was interviewed by detectives from the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office. She told them that it had crossed her mind she might be pregnant, but she didn’t display normal signs like nausea or stretch marks. And she said she did not gain much weight, according to a recording of the interview, reported by the Times Recorder.
Detective Todd Mahle was dubious.
“I don’t want you to lie to me because I think you knew you were pregnant,” he said. “I don’t believe you went to the bathroom and had this baby and it was a complete surprise.”
She admitted during the interview that her baby was born alive, but said she threw the newborn away after the infant appeared to stop moving, according to the Times Recorder.
When asked why she didn’t call 911, she said: “I thought the baby was gone.”
Although Weaver cried during the interview, “she just showed no emotion,” Mahle later testified.
It would take authorities three months to charge her with murdering her child.
During that interlude, a Twitter account apparently belonging to Weaver would post updates about alcohol and Adderall.
“Dreams really do come true,” reads a post with a link to a “Total Sorority Move” article about Taco Bell selling alcohol.
— Emile Weaver! (@EmileWeaver) May 15, 2015
Other posts seemed to acknowledge the tragedy overshadowing her once normal college life.
“Goodbyes are not always bad, sometimes there just what you need in your life,” reads a tweet from June 11, 2015.
“Things were so different this time last year,” reads a retweet from July 4.
Once in custody, Weaver initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but a judge ruled she was mentally competent.
Her trial began this May, roughly a year after her child’s death.
Aaron Miller, her defense attorney, argued Weaver did not know she was pregnant and that the baby could have been stillborn or died through natural causes shortly after birth.
“Did she do the right thing by placing her dead baby in a garbage can? Absolutely not,” he said, according to the Times Recorder. “Did she kill her baby? When you hear the evidence, you will have reasonable doubt.”
But prosecutors said Weaver knew she was pregnant and presented scientific evidence that the child was healthy and had taken several breaths after birth. The child had only died from asphyxiation after Weaver put her in the plastic trash bag, they argued, according to the AP.
A jury found her guilty of aggravated murder, abuse of a corpse and two counts of tampering with evidence.
During sentencing, Weaver’s own former sorority sisters took the stand to describe how they had been traumatized by that terrible day.
Saer, the sorority sister who had heard the baby’s only cries, said she had been “distraught” afterward.
“She wishes she’d broken down the door,” Muskingum County Common Pleas Judge Mark Fleegle said of Saer.
Weaver’s defense attorney argued his young client deserved the chance for parole after 20 years in prison, saying she was sorry for what she did even if she didn’t act like it.
“What does genuine remorse look like?” Miller asked. “How many times must an individual cry or not cry to show genuine remorse?”
“I stand before you a broken-down woman, asking for forgiveness and mercy,” Weaver said through tears. “Words cannot express how sorry I am to my beautiful daughter Addison.”
Judge Fleegle was unmoved.
“You tried over and over to take that baby’s life,” he said, citing the alcohol, drugs and birth-inducing black cohosh supplements Weaver had taken, according to the Times Recorder.
Fleegle also said that her text — saying she had “taken care of” her daughter — was “probably the most truthful statement you made that day.”
“It was an inconvenience, and you took care of it.”
Fleegle also slammed her letter to the court, in which she said she made a mistake, called herself selfish, asked for the minimum sentence and said: “We all do things we’re not proud of.”
“In those four paragraphs, you mention ‘I’ 15 times,” Fleegle said. “Once again, it’s all about you.”
The judge sentenced Weaver to life in prison without parole.
Weaver said she intends to appeal her conviction.
Her maximum sentence stands in stark contrast to the three years received by Bryant, the Muskingum student who killed her child in 2002.
“I do want to tell you that you’re probably not the kind of person that belongs in prison,” Judge Howard S. Zwelling told Bryant, speaking in the same courthouse as Fleegle. “You made a terrible mistake in your life.”
Bryant, who was also represented by Aaron Miller, was allowed out of prison after seven months.
At the time, prosecutor D. Michael Haddox warned that Bryant’s release would send the wrong message to young girls in the same situation.
Twelve years later, Haddox told the AP he felt better about the second of the two remarkably similar trials.
“We believe justice has been served as best as humanly possible,” he said.