It now looks like Ward Weaver confessed to the murder of two missing Oregon City girls before their bodies were found in his backyard in August 2002.
The revelation, which stems from recently released reports on the case, is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
First, the FBI repeatedly has denied that Weaver had confessed, despite media reports to the contrary. Second, the news explains why Weaver was never put on the witness stand.
According to recently released reports on the case, Weaver's sister received a call from his attorneys' investigator on the morning of Aug. 24, 2002, warning her to "prepare for the worst."
The sister, Teresa Quintero, quotes the investigator as saying, "I just got back from Ward's. Prepare yourself to expect the worst."
Quintero said that Weaver also called her from the Clackamas County Jail that morning. Although Quintero doesn't say whether her brother also confessed to her, he did tell her, "The shit's going to hit the fan."
According to Quintero, both calls were made before the body of Miranda Gaddis was found in a shed on Weaver's property at around 3 pm on Aug. 24. The body of Ashley Pond was found buried under a concrete pad on the property the next day.
Quintero's statements appear in Oregon City Police Department records released to WW last week. The FBI, which also investigated the case, refused to comply with WW's public-records request.
News of Weaver's confession was first reported by the Portland Tribune, which posted a story on its website on the morning of Aug. 24, 2002. The posting, which came just hours before Gaddis' body was found, claimed the FBI had informed the girls' families, the previous evening, that it expected to find the girls' remains on Weaver's property.
It's not clear whether Weaver was as candid with police as he was with his attorneys' investigator. At the time of the Tribune's report, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele repeatedly denied that Weaver had confessed. (She did not return WW's call for comment this week.) But Oregon City Police Chief Gordon Huiras was more specific, saying Weaver didn't confess to him.
If Weaver's confession did get passed on to police, it represented a huge break in the case. But for his attorneys, who needed to cast doubt on his guilt, it presented a big ethical challenge.
Oregon State Bar rules require defense attorneys to advocate for a client even when they personally believe he's guilty. They can't, however, let him perjure himself.
Even after his apparent confession, Weaver was telling the media he was innocent and may have wanted to take the stand. If a client insists on testifying to something his attorney knows is a lie, the attorney needs to involve a judge.
In late March 2003, Weaver's attorneys, W. Timothy Lyons and Joseph Watson, did just that, seeking to withdraw from the case because "certain ethical conflicts of interest" between them and Weaver had caused their attorney-client relationship to break down. The reasons for this breakdown, they said, could not be revealed without violating the confidentiality of "certain communications between defendant and his counsel."
Lyons did not return WW's calls for comment on this story. Weaver, who subsequently received a second pair of court-appointed attorneys, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the deaths of both girls earlier this year in exchange for a life sentence. He had faced the death penalty.