April 30, 2014
After a nearly four-hour hearing Wednesday, an Albemarle County judge says she will take a month to decide whether to overturn a convicted abductor's guilty verdict.
Mark Weiner was arrested in December 2012, charged with abduction with the intent to defile. Prosecutors say he offered to give 20-year-old Chelsea Steiniger a ride home but instead took her to an abandoned home in Shadwell and attempted to assault her.
Weiner's defense attorneys say it was all a ruse.
"There was no crime," attorney Steven Benjamin told Judge Cheryl Higgins in Albemarle County Circuit Court. "It was a complete figment of that witness' imagination to taunt her boyfriend."
A jury last May convicted Weiner on the charge and recommended a prison sentence of 20 years.
On what was supposed to be Weiner's sentencing day, his attorneys argued a motion for Higgins to set aside the verdict based on a number of factors. They say they have new cellular evidence, which Benjamin compares to DNA, that confirms Steiniger was lying about her location as she texted her boyfriend throughout the alleged kidnapping.
Benjamin spoke for more than an hour and a half, explaining to the judge what he sees as improper about the trial. He says much of Steiniger's original testimony is now discredited, and that the guilty verdict is based on a set of lies.
He also accused commonwealth's attorney Denise Lunsford of prosecutorial misconduct for presenting Steiniger's alleged lies as fact.
Lunsford argued that Weiner was simply unhappy with the performance of his trial attorney, Ford Childress, and is now trying to rectify that. She stands by Steiniger's testimony.
Lunsford declined to comment following the proceeding, but Benjamin said he's going to continue working to make sure Weiner is set free.
"Sometimes the effort of getting it right and doing justice requires an intense and sometimes adversarial proceeding, but we all do have the same goal in mind, and that is truth and justice," he said. "And that's what we're seeking here."
Judge Higgins said she would take time to consider the defense's motion. Weiner will be back on June 3 to hear the judge's ruling.