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Weller too ill to attend sentencing, lawyers say

October 28, 2006|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

Attorneys on Friday told the judge that 89-year-old George Weller is too ill to attend his sentencing next month for plowing through the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, killing 10 people and injuring more than 60.

Defense attorney Mark Overland said forcing the retiree to appear would have no purpose "other than torturing him."

Overland's statement came as Judge Michael Johnson set a date of Nov. 20 to sentence Weller in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Weller was distraught when he was told he had been convicted on 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter, punishable by up to 18 years in prison, lawyers said.

Weller appeared for the first day of his trial, but otherwise did not attend the proceedings and was not present when the verdict was read Oct. 20.

"He was stoic, but he was also very emotional," said one of his lawyers, Mark Borenstein. "He indicated that he was very sad, very remorseful, very apologetic."

Prosecutors said the victims' bill of rights ensures that those who suffer from crime can face the perpetrators.

The California Constitution extends "the right to have the defendant present to hear the victims," said Ann Ambrose, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who won convictions on all charges.

Johnson made no decision on Weller's request to stay home, but asked for documentation of his medical condition.

On July 16, 2003, Weller drove his 1992 Buick at freeway speeds the length of the popular open-air market along Arizona Avenue, leaving a trail of human carnage.

His defense was that he mistook the accelerator for the brake pedal, could not understand why he couldn't stop the car, panicked and could not alter his actions until an air bag deployed, knocking his foot off the gas.

Ambrose told the judge that 20 victims have said they wish to be heard when Weller's sentence is pronounced, and she expects more to come forward.

Weller's request to skip the sentencing was filed under seal. Johnson questioned whether there is any legal justification for keeping the court papers secret. The defense cited privacy provisions of state law, and Johnson scheduled further hearings on the issue.

john.spano@latimes.com

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