A woman convicted of murdering her newborn daughter is getting another chance at freedom. Emile Weaver, 27, was previously sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for abandoning her newborn daughter Addison Grace Weaver in a trash bag next to a sorority house in Muskingum University. A 4-3 majority of justices on the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled on Thursday that Muskingum County Common Pleas Judge Mark Fleegle showed that he made up his mind about her punishment. Now they want another judge to resentence her.
That means there’s a chance that Weaver will get a lesser sentence: life in prison with the possibility of parole in as soon as 20 years.
From the ruling by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor:
Weaver was entitled to have her petition for postconviction relief heard and decided by an impartial tribunal. … The trial-court judge’s conduct extensively detailed throughout this opinion illustrates that he was not impartial at Weaver’s evidentiary hearing. The trial-court judge willfully refused to consider the evidence of neonaticide and chose to focus on irrelevant information to deny her petition, including inserting his personal opinion of the court of appeals’ decision in Weaver II, 2018-Ohio-2509, 114 N.E.3d 766, and inappropriately solicitating Weaver’s sorority sisters’ feelings toward that decision.
Justice Pat DeWine wrote in a dissent that the majority went over the line:
I disagree with the majority’s characterization of some of the judge’s findings after the postconviction-relief hearing and with its determination that the judge’s comments during the hearing show that he was biased against her. Moreover, even if we were to fully credit the evidence presented by Weaver in support of her petition for postconviction relief, that evidence still fails to establish that she was deprived her constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel. I therefore dissent from the majority’s judgment vacating her sentence and remanding for a new sentencing hearing.
Two sorority sisters found Addison dead on April 22, 2015, at the university in New Concord, Ohio. Defendant Weaver claimed to give birth to the child in a toilet in a sorority house. Fleegle sentenced Weaver to life without parole, finding she lacked remorse, hurt her sorority sisters, and performed “the worst form” of aggravated murder. The court also took her mother-daughter relationship with Addison into consideration. The judge reportedly cited evidence that she texted the man she wrongly believed to be Addison’s father, “No more baby,” and “taken care of.”
In addition to aggravated murder, charges were abuse of a corpse and two counts of tampering with evidence.
In seeking postconviction relief, she argued that her trial counsel failed to present evidence about neonaticide as a mitigating factor. The defense presented a report from Stanford University Dr. Clara Lewis, who did an interview with Weaver and submitted an affidavit:
In her report, Dr. Lewis explained that many people find it “impossible” to understand how and why a woman could commit neonaticide; but research reveals and psychiatrists explain that neonaticide is “patterned” and that women who commit neonaticide fit a particular profile. For instance, Dr. Lewis noted that women who commit neonaticide “tend to be immature, isolated, worried about the judgment of others on issues ranging from sex to abortion to unwed motherhood” and they generally “receive no prenatal care, suffer from pregnancy denial, make no plans for their labor or delivery, and labor alone on toilets without medical care.” And when the baby arrives, “their denial shatters and panic ensues,” leading these women to respond with “poorly concealed acts of desperation.” Dr. Lewis emphasized that panic is “central” to cases involving neonaticide, which suggests that this crime is “not carefully planned.”
Dr. Lewis concluded that Weaver fit the typical personality and demographic profile and her actions followed the typical pattern, noting that Weaver’s social isolation, her immaturity, and her boyfriend’s insistence on secrecy during the pregnancy, as well as her sorority sisters’ actions, all reinforced her isolating behavior and denial of the pregnancy. Accordingly, while Dr. Lewis acknowledged that Weaver deserved to be punished for her conduct, she emphasized that presenting this existing body of research on neonaticide at Weaver’s sentencing “would have demonstrated that there are substantial grounds to mitigate her individual culpability.”
[Mugshot via Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]