Rapist gets 19 to 56 years

BEDFORD – Stephen Weaver, convicted last year of sexually assaulting two female relatives when they were teenagers, was sentenced Wednesday to 19 to 56 years’ imprisonment by a Bedford County judge.

Weaver, 56, of Schellsburg waited nearly nine months for the sentence, which followed Judge Thomas Ling’s decision that Weaver must register with authorities as a sexually violent predator.

“These convictions show an attack on the basis of the family,” Ling said, noting that Weaver’s otherwise spotless criminal record and history of work and military service allowed for a sentence below District Attorney Bill Higgins’ requested 28 to 98 years.

“They’re some of the most serious offenses we have in the crimes code,” Ling said.

A Bedford County jury convicted Weaver in December of rape, indecent deviate sexual intercourse and 20 counts of indecent assault. They acquitted him of more than 300 other charges.

Ling cited Weaver’s long, slow process of “grooming” – gradually preparing the girls for a sexual relationship – as a factor in his decision to label the onetime welder and Marine a violent predator.

His teenage victims, now in their 20s, said Weaver used his position as a breadwinner and authority figure to drive them to a sexual relationship. A prosecution expert, state sex-offender specialist Herbert E. Hays, cited police reports in which the girls recalled their fear of Weaver’s gun collection and frequent talk of violence.

Weaver’s attorney, Thomas Crawford, asked Ling for a five-to-10-year sentence, noting that jurors clearly hadn’t intended for a sweeping conviction on every accusation. A second expert, Pittsburgh-based forensic psychiatrist Robert Wettstein, said he found insufficient evidence to label Weaver as a violent, clinically ill offender.

Ling’s final sentence stood between the extremes both attorneys had sought.

“I’m satisfied,” one of Weaver’s victims said as she left the courthouse after the nearly six-hour hearing. Even with his prior jail time removed from the sentence, Weaver isn’t set for a chance at parole until his 70s.

Weaver was swiftly taken from the courthouse for transport to the Cambria County jail, where he’s being held temporarily in preparation for an unrelated federal bomb-possession case. U.S. prosecutors have accused him of building pipe bombs, which relatives allegedly found after a 2011 police siege of his Schellsburg home.

Prior to sentencing, the victims’ grandmother, Marie Zerfoss, told Ling she didn’t want her relatives to spend their days looking over their shoulders for Weaver.

His younger victim – who had attended prior hearings but was absent Wednesday – can’t stand to be in the same room as her abuser anymore, Zerfoss said.

“This is their justice day,” she said. “This is the day they get to start their life again.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.