- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A judge on Thursday overturned a woman’s murder conviction and prison sentence after a bite mark expert who testified against her at trial said he now believes his findings were “junk science.”

Fayette County Judge John Wagner ruled in the case of 38-year-old Crystal Dawn Weimer, of Connellsville, after a brief hearing about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh. Weimer has repeatedly insisted she’s innocent in the 2001 beating death of 21-year-old Curtis Haith.

She was convicted of third-degree murder in 2006 and sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. A man imprisoned in the case had testified that Weimer helped lure Haith to the scene. A dental expert, Dr. Constantine Karazulas, testified that a bite on the victim’s hand matched Weimer.

But the witness who placed Weimer at the scene has since recanted, and the dentist changed his mind, too.

The National Academy of Science in 2009 issued a report discrediting bite mark evidence as an inexact way to match defendants to bite wounds.

Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which is representing Weimer, said the report was Karazulas’ “epiphany” and “he independently went back and reviewed his findings.”

Karazulas concluded that bite marks can be used to eliminate someone as a suspect, not to conclusively match them, Bluestine said. The dentist was traveling after the hearing and didn’t immediately return a message relayed through his Bridgeport, Connecticut, office.

Weimer’s attorneys won’t let her comment because she remains charged in Haith’s death, Bluestine said.

By law, District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr. has 120 days to decide whether to retry Weimer. The prosecutor didn’t immediately return a call for comment, and the assistant who handled the hearing referred questions to Heneks.

The judge ruled that Weimer can be released on unsecured bond - meaning she doesn’t have to post bail money - as long as she’s monitored with an electronic bracelet. That will take state prison officials a few days to set up, so Weimer remains at a women’s prison in Cambridge Springs.

She was originally charged after an ex-boyfriend told authorities she confessed. The charges were dropped when he recanted but were refiled after Joseph Stenger, of Everson, pleaded guilty in 2004 to his role in Haith’s death.

Stenger pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy to commit criminal homicide and is serving nine to 18 years in prison. Prosecutors dropped more serious charges against Stenger because he agreed to testify against Weimer.

Stenger claimed Weimer and two black men went to Haith’s home, and she lured Haith outside so Stenger and the others could beat him with a baseball bat and crowbar.

Stenger has since given a sworn statement saying he falsely implicated her and the black suspects don’t exist.

“He explained that where he is from, whenever something bad happens, they say, ‘The black guy did it,’” according to the investigator who took Stenger’s sworn statement. “Stenger said he is not a racist, but that’s just what people do.”

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