The strange civil trial of a Clovis horse breeder who claimed to be French royalty began Monday with her pathologist husband admitting that he lied about more than just her death.
With his reclusive wife barred from testifying, Dr. Michael Weilert is left to explain the odd twists in the couple's life.
Weilert, 61, is a leader in the Fresno medical community -- director of Pathology & Clinical Laboratories for Community Regional Medical Center and a founding member of Pathology Associates in Clovis.
But when it came to his wife, Genevieve de Montremare, Weilert said Monday in court, he did what she asked, including faking her death.
That's not the only lie Weilert said he made at his wife's direction.
He admitted telling the buyers of the couple's Parlier horse ranch that de Montremare's estate had sold a painting for "18 million pounds." There was no such painting, he told the jury.
And while his wife pretended to be dead, Weilert told the jury, she was actually hiding in the couple's home while he showed it to the buyers.
His testimony was a bizarre beginning in a civil trial in which Weilert and de Montremare are accused of fraud, intentional misrepresentation and breach of contract in connection with the 2008 sale of their Parlier ranch for an inflated $2.3 million.
In opening statements, the buyers' lawyer called Weilert "a sophisticated con man" and "a puppet" for his wife.
On the first day of testimony, de Montremare was nowhere to be found. According to court records, she allegedly suffers from depression, anxiety and disorders such as agoraphobia, a fear of public places.
Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan has barred de Montremare from testifying, penalty for what the judge called malingering during her pre-trial depositions. Her husband also is prohibited from bringing up his wife's alleged illnesses.
The ruling means her husband has to explain why he faked her death during the sale of the ranch. Monday, the task proved difficult.
On the witness stand, Weilert repeatedly said, "I don't recall" or "I don't remember" when questions focused on his wife's fictional life and the sale of the property.
He testified that while his wife pretended to be dead, he told the Southern California buyers, Brian Gwartz and Cheryl Skigin, that de Montremare has a sister named Diane.
That wasn't true, Weilert told the jury.
He also told the panel his wife lied about being a horse genetic expert and a medical doctor.
But Weilert was clear on why he faked her death. "She is very ill and her desire was to be dead," he said. "She wanted to be left alone."
He also said there might be truth in his wife's account of being of French royalty.
"It has something to do with a great grandfather that is connected to the family, to that history," he told jurors.
"Did you ever meet these relatives?" asked attorney Daniel Spitzer, who represents Gwartz and Skigin.
No, Weilert replied.
Gwartz and Skigin sued Michael Weilert in March 2009. They didn't learn that de Montremare was alive until months later. On Dec. 4, 2009, the lawsuit was amended to add de Montremare as a defendant.
Spitzer said the case boils down to "greed and deception" by Weilert and de Montremare, 50, who also goes by Weilert.
Spitzer spelled out a deep deception, telling jurors that de Montremare told others that she was born in France, educated in Europe and is a member of French royalty that has been breeding horses for 1,000 years.
In reality, she was born in Burbank and grew up as Genevieve Sanders in Lindsay. In January 1991, she petitioned the court to legally change her name to Genevieve Marie de Montremare and began telling friends that she was of French royalty -- the House of Rochechouart.