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Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - Page updated at 11:56 A.M.

Weaver pleads guilty to killing daughter's friends in Oregon

By Joseph B. Frazier
The Associated Press

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OREGON CITY, Ore. — Ending a saga that began with the January, 2002 disappearance of a 12-year-old Oregon City girl on her way to school, Ward Weaver pleaded guilty today killing two of his daughter's friends, and was sentenced to two life sentences in prison without parole.

With the plea, Weaver, 41, avoided the death penalty, and brought an end to a case that has gripped public attention and prompted changes in the state's child welfare system.

In total, Weaver pleaded guilty to 17 counts, including rape, sex abuse and abuse of a corpse.

Speaking in a hoarse whisper, hunched over and looking mainly down, Weaver told Judge Robert Herndon he had come to court on "medications" but agreed that the plea agreement was a product of his "own free will." It was not clear what the medications were for.

The Weaver case opened with the disappearance on a blustery January morning of 12-year-old Ashley Pond, a friend and neighbor of Mallori Weaver, Ward Weaver's daughter.

Two months later, another of Mallori Weaver's friends, 13-year-old Miranda Gaddis, also disappeared, touching off a nationwide FBI search that brought tips from as far as Florida.

Investigators focused on Weaver, whose modest rental home was just steps from the school bus stop where both girls were last seen. He responded by inviting television crews into his home to film him proclaiming his innocence, giving interviews on top of the concrete slab in his back yard under which investigators later found Ashley Pond's body.

Weaver was arrested on Aug. 13, 2002, after his son's girlfriend ran from his home, naked except for a tarp, screaming that Weaver had tried to rape her.

After that arrest, FBI investigators cordoned off his back yard with chain-link fence and searched for the bodies of Ashley and Miranda. They found Ashley's in a barrel under the concrete slab, and Miranda's in a box in Weaver's tool shed.

Today, the mothers of the two girls wept in court, leaning for support on the shoulders of friends and family members.

Addressing Weaver in an emotional statement in court, Lori Pond, the mother of Ashley Pond, broke down in tears, saying, "I know I have the memory of my daughter for the rest of my life. That cannot ever be taken away."
 
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Weaver did not make eye contact with Lori Pond as she continued, "I just know that I am going to live, continue on. I may have to do this without my daughter, but I have other children I need to be strong for. I really don't have much more to say, except to thank you for justice."

Since his arrest, Weaver has shuttled between the Clackamas County Jail and the Oregon State Hospital, proclaiming his innocence while psychiatrists evaluated his mental fitness to stand trial. Earlier this summer, the judge found that Weaver was fit for trial, and refused a request from Weaver's lawyers to move the trial to a different county.

Weaver's father, also named Ward Weaver, sits on death row in California. He is charged with murdering a woman, and burying her body in his back yard, below concrete.

The plea marks the second such agreement to avoid trial in a high-profile murder case in Oregon this week. On Monday, Edward Morris of Portland pleaded guilty to killing his pregnant wife and their three children and accepted a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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