Murder trial begins
Shedding light on events surrounding Angelica Weems’ death, life
Testimony in the trial of a Chico man accused of murder got emotional Tuesday (March 8), when family members of the defendant, Zir Weems, took the stand, some of them fighting tears while recalling interactions with their brother and his wife before her disappearance in September 2014. Weems faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Angelica Weems, whose remains were found along the Sacramento River weeks after she went missing.
Scant details were known of the case before it went to trial last week, but many more have unfolded thus far. As the CN&R previously reported, Angelica was 23 when she died, and a mother of four. She went missing Sept. 13 in Willows after she and her husband went for a walk, and she never returned. The next day, Weems was found with self-inflicted wounds to his arms. An extensive law enforcement search was launched, but it was family who located Angelica’s body.
Tuesday was the fourth day of the trial, which is expected to span three weeks, and in which Deputy District Attorney Stacy Edwards hopes to prove—despite only circumstantial evidence—that Weems strangled Angelica before disposing of her body near Ord Bend Park, a place his family frequented when he was a child.
“This is a circumstantial evidence case,” Edwards told the jury in her opening statements last week. “There is no eyewitness. There is no smoking gun, so to speak … no confession.”
Weems’ defense attorney, Eric Ortner, challenged the jury to take each bit of testimony and piece together the chain of events and web of family relationships as best they can. He suggested that Weems’ mental health would be a factor in the case. (Weems underwent mental health screenings prior to trial and was found competent.)
The families of Weems and Angelica are, in fact, large and interwoven. As has been revealed in testimony thus far, Weems is one of 11 siblings, and two of his brothers are married to Angelica’s two sisters (she also has one brother). Angelica worked at TJ Maxx, along with her mother, Lorena Hernandez. And one of Weems’ brothers also works there. When Angelica went missing, her father-in-law, Tom Weems, was the only other adult present in his mother’s—Zir Weems’ grandmother’s—house in Willows, where the men were working to retile the kitchen floor.
That evening sometime, on Sept. 13, 2014, Weems and Angelica stepped outside to take a walk—a common occurrence, Tom testified—and Weems came back inside, saying Angelica had taken the walk alone.
“It was my impression that, because he was helping me, he came back,” said Tom, an older man with long, dark hair and long, white beard. But Angelica never returned, and when Tom awoke the next morning, his son also was nowhere to be found. Sunday evening, a neighbor called for medical assistance; and Weems was found bleeding on the ground outside a large shop building at the back of his grandmother’s property. He had wounds on both arms, explained Sgt. Troy McIntyre of the Willows Police Department, the first to arrive on the scene. A large window on the side of the shop appeared to have been broken from the inside.
Law enforcement witnesses including McIntyre were the first to testify, describing arriving at Weems’ grandmother’s property, finding him with chunks of skin removed from his arms and large pools of blood inside the shop. The first they learned of Angelica’s disappearance, they said, was upon the arrival of her mother at the scene.
About 10 days into the investigation of Angelica’s disappearance, one of Weems’ brothers called McIntyre and suggested he concentrate the search on the Ord Bend Park area.
“He said when they were younger the family used to go to that park and it was significant while they were growing up,” McIntyre testified. Though he and another officer searched the park, they found nothing. On Oct. 5, the family searched a sandy beach area along the river—about half a mile from the park where McIntyre looked previously—and found a body that turned out to be Angelica’s. Nearby, hanging from a tree branch, was a Dr. Pepper can. Based on several witnesses’ testimony, Weems’ favorite soft drink is Dr. Pepper or generic forms thereof.
On Friday (March 4), testimony shifted from those involved in the investigation of Angelica’s disappearance and death, the cause of which was asphyxiation due to manual strangulation, to those who knew Angelica. Numerous co-workers and managers at TJ Maxx testified to seeing her arrive at work with injuries on her body, including black eyes and handprint-looking bruises around her neck and arms. Four of Weems’ siblings took the stand Tuesday and described a background of physical abuse in the family and anecdotes depicting Weems as controlling over Angelica.
“She looked to him for when to talk and interact,” one sister said. “She was scared when he was in the room, and she’d be crying when he left.”