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Philly basement victim says he was kept in nailed-shut closet

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
updated 7:08 PM EST, Mon December 19, 2011
Linda Ann Weston, 51, and three others face charges for holding four people in a Philadelphia sub-basement.
Linda Ann Weston, 51, and three others face charges for holding four people in a Philadelphia sub-basement.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Edwin Sanabria says he and three others were kept in a sub-basement for 10 days
  • Four suspects face a laundry list of charges in the case
  • A police officer testifies the sub-basement smelled like "death"

Philadelphia (CNN) -- A mentally disabled man testified Monday he was once kept in a closet that was nailed shut by a woman at the helm of an alleged fraud and abuse scheme.

Edwin Sanabria, 31, also said he did not receive his Social Security checks once he began living with Linda Weston in 2001.

Sanabria testified at the preliminary hearing for Weston, 51, Gregory Thomas, 47, Eddie Wright, 49, and Jean McIntosh, 32. All four are facing charges including kidnapping, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and false imprisonment for holding four people in the sub-basement of a Philadelphia apartment building.

McIntosh, the daughter of Weston, the alleged ringleader, remained animated throughout the hearing, shaking her head, whispering with her attorney and breaking down into tears during Sanabria's testimony.

The four mentally disabled adults held captive -- Sanabria, Herbert Knowles, Tamara Breeden and Derwin McLemire -- were found in October locked in the sub-basement room with no food and only a bucket for a toilet. The pitch-black, 13-by-7 foot space houses what police described as a former boiler used to heat the building. A penetrating stench of urine and feces still hung in the chamber days after the discovery.

McLemire had been chained to the boiler, police said.

"I used the bucket to go to the bathroom. Others used the same bucket," Sanabria testified Monday, pointing to an enlarged photo of the sub-basement. When asked where he took a bath, he said they "used the same bucket we used to urinate in."

Sanabria said he and the others were in the basement for 10 days. He said he traveled to Philadelphia with Weston from West Palm Beach, Florida.

Prosecutors showed a number of photos of the alleged victims covered in various scars, scabs and lacerations after their discovery. All appeared extremely malnourished.

Police Officer John Murphy testified about discovering the victims and leading them out after the building's landlord cut McLemire's chain.

"The stench in the room and on their person was unbearable," Murphy said. When asked to describe the smell in the basement, he said, "Basically, death."

He added that McLemire's chain was barely hanging on him because he was so thin.

All four defendants appeared in court. Weston, who remained expressionless during the daylong hearing, wore her orange prison jumpsuit. The others wore street clothes, and McIntosh wore a hijab, or Muslim head covering.

Crime scene police Officer John Tuggart testified the alleged victims had 21.5 square feet per person of living space while in the sub-basement. He described the sound of the door to the sub-basement closing as being "like a meat locker, the way it rattles and shuts."

Tuggart added that the victims "seemed relieved to be somewhere they were being taken care of" at the hospital where they received treatment.

The suspects also face charges including assault, terrorist threats, neglect of a care-dependent person and theft by deception.

Weston served prison time in the 1980s for killing her sister's boyfriend by locking him in a closet and refusing to feed him. Court documents show Bernardo Ramos, 25, was fed only four times while locked in the closet over the two-month period. He died in 1981, at which point he weighed less than 75 pounds. His body was found in an abandoned building after it was wheeled there in a baby carriage, according to the documents.

The defendants will return to court Tuesday.

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