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Franklin County coroner defends actions in man's 2005 death

April 04, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner on Thursday denied any wrongdoing in handling the affairs of a man who died in 2005, saying no will was found in the home and a local newspaper's article about the case was "grossly inaccurate."

Conner listed 21 "discrepancies" in a Public Opinion article about the investigation of Weimer's death and disposition of his estate. He provided copies of documents about the disposition of funds from the estate, legal memos and written statements from others involved in the case.

Watching Conner's courthouse press conference was Tina Warner, who says she was the common-law wife of the late John R. Weimer and insists there were handwritten wills in the house when he died.

"My attorney ... has continually advised me not to respond and has in fact advised me not to do this press conference today," Conner said. "However, it is my integrity and my reputation that is at stake" because of a March 30 article in the newspaper.

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"The neighbors knew us as husband and wife," Warner said after the press conference. Weimer died two weeks before she was paroled from Franklin County Prison, where she was serving a sentence for theft, according to court records.

When allowed into the house to get her belongings, Warner said she was not allowed to take all of them, including personal papers. Warner said she told Deputy Coroner Kenneth L. Peiffer Jr. the wills were kept in a filing cabinet.

"It is not part of the Coroner's responsibilities to investigate the existence or non-existence of a common law marriage," Jan Sulcove, the solicitor for the coroner's office, wrote in a memorandum. "Claims to property by unrelated parties must be documented by written proof of ownership."

Weimer was 52 when he died of a presumed heart attack in his Brechbill Road home on July 11, 2005. In a press release, Conner said the property was searched for a will, but none was found.

"Mr. Weimer owned his home, two automobiles and miscellaneous personal possessions located within the home," Conner said, reading from a statement. Warner's name was not on either of the two mortgages or vehicle titles, he said.

No relatives of Weimer came forward in the year after his death and the house was foreclosed upon and sold at a sheriff's sale to satisfy liens and the mortgages. The $18,956.96 left over reverted to the county, according a Sheriff's Office document.

Conner contracted with an auction house to sell the personal property, which went for $5,212.55, according to copies of the checks accompanied by a Dec. 6, 2006, memorandum to the County Commissioners bearing the coroner's seal.

The money from the sale of the house and personal property can still be claimed by a legal heir, Conner said.

No one ever filed with the Register of Wills Office to become the administrator of the estate, Sulcove said. That is typically a person related by blood or marriage, but a creditor or other interested party can become administrator, he said.

"The lack of a will is no impediment to the administration of an estate," Sulcove said.

Peiffer said he investigated the case and signed the death certificate. There was "a very thorough search" of the house, including a search of a computer by a Pennsylvania State Police trooper looking for evidence of a will or next of kin, he said.

Peiffer was with Warner when she went into the house after her release from jail. She was allowed to get her clothes, purse and personal items, according to a written statement by Peiffer.

"Not that I'm aware of," Peiffer said Thursday when asked if Warner mentioned a will, or where to look for one.

Warner said she received $15,000 as beneficiary of Weimer's life insurance policy. A diabetic with one leg, Weimer was also listed as a dependent on her tax returns, she said.

Warner said she twice went to lawyers seeking to be named executor. She said she was told she needed to post a bond, which she could not afford at the time.

The money from his insurance, she said, went to her living expenses, Warner said. She might yet attempt to be named executor, she said, although Weimer apparently does have a living relative.

"I only found out recently he has a stepbrother in York County," Warner said. She said she did not know if he is aware of Weimer's death.

Conner said he communicated with the reporter who wrote the story only by e-mail, referring her requests for answers or documents to Sulcove. He did not speak to her directly, he said, because of "inaccuracies" in previous stories.

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