A Keene man who sexually abused two young relatives for more than a decade faced his crying wife, an outraged judge and one of his victims Tuesday before he was sent to prison.
Howard Weiss, 56, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to seven counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault, all felonies.
As part of a plea agreement, he was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in N.H. State Prison, followed by 15 years’ probation.
Weiss will be eligible for parole in 10 years if he follows the rules in prison and completes a sexual offender program.
He also received six suspended sentences of seven to 15 years, which can be imposed if he gets into any other legal trouble.
Weiss was barred from having contact with the two victims or anyone under the age of 16.
Judge John P. Arnold said Weiss should be spending the rest of his life behind bars.
“I think he belongs in state prison until he escapes by death,” Arnold said during the hearing. “I don’t think he ever deserves to see the light of day outside of state prison.”
The now-adult victims, one of whom was present Tuesday during the sentencing, said through a court-appointed victim advocate that they had experienced enough abuse in their lives and did not want to be dragged through a trial. They had agreed to Weiss’s plea deal.
“I respect the victims’ wishes that the court accept this negotiated disposition,” Arnold said, “and the court will do so with great reservations.”
The Sentinel does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
Weiss, a tall man with bushy gray hair and a protruding belly, spoke only when responding to Arnold’s questions during the hearing. Both of his wrists were bandaged with white gauze. He had attempted suicide, according to his court-appointed attorney, Michael C. Shklar.
Helen Weiss wept as she sat behind her husband in the small courtroom. Before Weiss was led away in handcuffs, he turned and looked at her. She stared back blankly.
Their childhoods lost
When allegations surfaced in February that Weiss had molested a 3-year-old girl, one of his victimized relatives stepped out of the shadows and spoke with police after more than two decades of silence.
The woman, now 29, told investigators Weiss began molesting her when she was 4 and continued the abuse until she was 15.
She had kept quiet for years, but decided to speak out after learning of another possible victim, Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John S. Webb said.
Keene police did not have enough evidence to move forward with an investigation into the allegations that Weiss had abused the 3 year old. The relative who stepped forward, however, would help send Weiss to prison.
She provided investigators with a statement that detailed years of sexual abuse at the hands of Weiss.
The incidents began with inappropriate touching and later escalated to “virtually every variety” of sexual abuse imaginable, Webb said.
Another of Weiss’s relatives later stepped forward and said Weiss began molesting him when he was 4 years old, according to an affidavit prepared by Keene police detective James F. McLaughlin.
The affidavit says the abuse took place in multiple residences in Keene, Swanzey and Westmoreland from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.
Investigators said Weiss used a Polaroid camera to take naked pictures of the victims and had set up a video camera in a room where the female victim slept.
Weiss would sometimes slap the two relatives if they attempted to fight back during the abuse, and had threatened to harm their mother if they contacted police, Webb said.
Weiss listened in silence during his sentencing hearing as Julie Scott, a victim advocate for the Cheshire County Attorney’s Office, read a statement from the female victim.
“All I really want to know is why?” she said. “Love’s not supposed to hurt, but you made it hurt. … I hate you for taking my childhood away from me.”
Scott said the male victim, now 30, was too angry to attend the hearing, but wanted Weiss to know that even “a lifetime (in prison) would not be enough” of a punishment.
Caught in a web of abuse
A past riddled with sexual abuse shaped Weiss’s future and the nightmarish lives of his two victims, according to statements Helen Weiss made to investigators.
Helen Weiss had been aware her husband was abusing his two relatives, according to the affidavit.
A message seeking comment from McLaughlin, the Keene police detective, as to whether Helen Weiss will be charged in connection with the abuse went unanswered.
In many cases, it can be difficult to prove a person has specific knowledge of a criminal act, Cheshire County Attorney Peter Heed said today.
During several conversations with his wife, Weiss admitted that he had molested the two relatives and another young male, but he did not detail the specific sexual acts and Helen Weiss did not press her husband for additional information, according to the affidavit.
“Howard Weiss did offer to Helen (Weiss) that his father, stepmother, older sister and grandfather molested him and he was not able to resist molesting” the children, the affidavit states. Weiss “further stated that his father beat him, so he has no ‘will power’ and could not stop himself from molesting the children.”
The affidavit does not indicate whether Helen Weiss, who has been married to Weiss for more than 26 years, ever witnessed the abuse. Attempts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.
While executing a search warrant on Weiss’s home in June, investigators found and seized a hand-carved wooden sex toy, photography and video equipment, and a three-page apology letter written by Weiss for the female victim, according to the affidavit.
Weiss explained in the letter that his mother and stepfather were members of a cult that believed in “having sex with children of all ages.”
He concludes the letter by telling the female victim that “I miss you and I do love you for who you are. Believe or not!”
Weiss had a tumultuous family life and was convicted on a child molestation charge when he was a teenager, according to the affidavit.
Investigators were given a glimpse into Weiss’s background during an interview with his former probation officer.
The details of that interview are included in the affidavit, as follows:
Weiss was born in Connecticut and had 10 siblings through his parents’ divorces. He went as far as the 9th grade in school, and was sent to an academy for children with emotional disabilities when he was 11 or 12 years old.
He spent a year in another mental-health treatment facility after being convicted of a child molestation charge when he was 16.
Weiss later joined the Army and was sent to Germany. He overdosed on drugs shortly after he received orders to serve a tour of duty in Vietnam, and was discharged from the Army on disability.
“Although Weiss has purported to be a disabled vet from Vietnam injuries, he has never had combat injuries, and in fact was never in Vietnam,” the affidavit states.
Waiting for death and expecting hell
No matter the length of his sentence, Weiss does not expect to leave prison alive, according to his attorney.
When Weiss learned police were looking into allegations that he had molested two relatives, he attempted to overdose on pain medication and cut his wrists with a knife and razor, according to the affidavit.
Investigators also said Weiss suffers from a potentially fatal heart condition, and had stopped taking his medication.
“He expects to die in prison,” Shklar, Weiss’s attorney, said during the hearing. “Mr. Weiss expects to go to hell.”