A man charged in the alleged abduction of a 20-year-old Charlottesville woman told his side of the story for the first time publicly Thursday, during the third day of a jury trial that was scheduled to last one day and will likely take four.
"She looked like she needed a ride. ... It was cold and windy," Mark Weiner, 53, said of his decision to call out to the woman as he left the Lucky Seven convenience store just after midnight Dec. 13.
On that night, like many other nights, Weiner testified that he left Piedmont Virginia Community College late and stayed out later, stopping at the downtown Wendy's drive-through and tooling around alone as he smoked the cigarettes he said his wife of 20 years disapproves of.
He pivoted in the witness stand after the disclosure to flash a half smile to the second row of the Albemarle County circuit courtroom, where his wife has sat alongside his siblings and their spouses throughout the proceedings.
Defense attorney Ford Childress called Weiner to testify after a lunch break and he remained on the stand for more than an hour, describing an uneventful ride from downtown Charlottesville to the victim's mother's home on Pantops.
After days of hearing about the victim, a soft-spoken young woman who on Tuesday detailed an ordeal than began with a kind gesture and allegedly ended in a dramatic escape from an abandoned Shadwell home, the jury of six men and seven women on Thursday learned more about the man facing a possible life sentence in the crime.
Weiner, a Food Lion store manager, said he is earning a business degree for "personal growth" and is actively involved in his 9-year-old son’s life, participating in his Boy Scout activities and taking him camping when they have time.
He was on his way to the family's Willow Way home in Greene County loaded down with groceries from the Ruckersville Wal-Mart after midnight Dec. 14 when deputies pulled over his Ford van, Weiner testified.
On the stand Thursday, Weiner said that Albemarle County police Detective Greg Anastopoulos asked him to give a statement at the police station, but Weiner said he wanted to clear everything up, "if there had been a misunderstanding," at a nearby gas station.
After a 10-minute talk, he was handcuffed and taken to an interview room at the police station off Fifth Street Extended. He said he did not understand what he was being accused of, but that he knew it was "serious."
Prosecutor Denise Lunsford told Judge Cheryl Higgins outside of the jury's presence that Weiner often drove home from school the same way the victim walked to get to her mother's apartment and might have been lying in wait to offer her a ride.
Authorities testified Thursday that they did not find any forensic evidence tying Weiner to the victim or the abandoned home she said she awoke in after he allegedly drugged her.
"This sinister theory the commonwealth has is just baseless," Childress said. "The connotation that he's out wandering around, stalking, as the commonwealth says, has no basis."
The trial is scheduled to resume Friday morning.