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CPD’s responses to questions regarding the death of Catherine Weiland

Here are the Chicago Police Department’s responses to questions from the Chicago Sun-Times regarding the death of Catherine Weiland.

Q: We’re working on a story regarding Catherine Weiland, who died after she was shot in the head with a bullet from Sgt. Steven Lesner’s service weapon. The police department closed the case, apparently before the forensic results came back showing gunshot residue on Ms. Weiland’s left hand, while the bullet entered the right side of her head from a downward angle.

A: This is incorrect. The bullet entered on an upward angle. The bullet entered her head on the right side 5 inches below the top of her head and exited on the left side 4 inches from the top of her head.

Secondly, death investigations in which no evidence of a crime exists are commonly closed prior to forensic evidence coming back. They are then reopened for review when forensic evidence becomes available. That’s precisely what took place in this incident.

The case was originally closed on March 14, 2009 as non-criminal. It was reopened on March 29, 2009 when a ballistics lab report from forensics came in. As is true with every such case, the case was reviewed to ensure any forensic evidence that came in was consistent with the original investigation. It was reopened again on August 27, 2009 when a lab report from forensics regarding the gun shot residue came in. Again, the case was reviewed to ensure any forensic evidence that came in was consistent with the original investigation. Everything was consistent with the original investigation and it remained non-criminal.

Finally, gun shot residue does not always attach to a person’s hand when they fire a gun. Offenders, victims and even suicide victims can test negative for GSR. With a semi-automatic handgun, GSR spray is limited to the ejection port and the muzzle. Since much of the GSR couldn’t come out the muzzle due to the placement of the gun, most of it could come out would be the ejection port on the top of the gun. Typically, GSR coming from the ejection port is sprayed up and away – not necessarily onto the hand holding the gun.

There are many factors that can affect GSR including ceiling fans, open windows, open doors, heat or AC blowing thru a vent, how a gun is held, the type of bullets used, the presence of blood, or actions taken by first responders to name just a few.

Additionally, I want to ensure you’ve carefully read page 11 in which Ms. Weiland’s family details her previous issues including threats to harm herself after fights with her ex-boyfriend. And, as you know, a domestic disturbance with her ex-boyfriend is what precipitated the original call on the night Ms. Weiland committed suicide.

Q: Ms. Weiland was right handed, but the tests show no gunshot residue on her right hand.

A: Based on the trajectory of the bullet, as determined by the Medical Examiner, and the shape of the entry wound, we believe that she used her right hand. This is consistent with her being right handed and not inconsistent with the GSR test for a person using a semi-automatic weapon

Q: Why did the police close the case before the forensic results came in?

A: Again, death investigations in which no evidence of a crime exists are commonly closed prior to forensic evidence coming back. They are then reopened for review when forensic evidence becomes available. That’s precisely what took place in this incident.

Q:Should the case have been reopened because of the forensic results?

A: Again, it was. The case was originally closed on March 14, 2009 as non-criminal. It was reopened on March 29, 2009 when a ballistics lab report from forensics came in. As is true with every such case, the case was reviewed to ensure any forensic evidence that came in was consistent with the original investigation. It was reopened again on August 27, 2009 when a lab report from forensics regarding the gun shot residue came in. Again, the case was reviewed to ensure any forensic evidence that came in was consistent with the original investigation. Everything was consistent with the original investigation and it remained non-criminal.

Q: Why didn’t detectives notate that Ms. Weiland was right handed?

A: Because the dominant hand isn’t a factor. People shoot themselves with their non-dominant hand, or with both hands.

Q: The reports don’t say whether there were any tests to indicate whether Ms. Weiland had sexual relations with Lesner. Were such tests conducted?

A: Sgt. Lesner stated no sexual relations took place between he and Ms. Weiland, and she was fully clothed at the time of her suicide. There were no signs of force or foul play and Sgt. Lesner was off-duty at the time of the incident, so no such tests were conducted.

Q: According to the reports Lesner admitted violating several department rules, such as transporting liquor he purchased for Weiland while he drove her home, and then failing to secure his weapon. Why wasn’t he disciplined for this?

A: An internal investigation into this incident took place and has concluded with a recommendation that must now complete the process proscribed by the member’s collective bargaining agreement.

Q: The Independent Police Review Authority had two investigators on the scene, but the authority refuses to answer any questions about this case, saying it is under review by the Internal Affairs Division. Ms. Weiland died more than four years ago. Why is the IAD case still open? When do you expect it to be completed?

A: An internal investigation into this incident took place and has concluded with a recommendation that must now complete the process proscribed by the member’s collective bargaining agreement.

Adam Collins

Director News Affairs

Chicago Police Department



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