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Toledoan faces death in slaying of couple

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Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were found dead Jan. 31 inside her parents' home in Springfield Township.

The Blade/Lori King
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Eight months after the slain bodies of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were found inside her Springfield Township home, a Toledo man charged in the killings learned Friday that he could face the death penalty.

Samuel Todd Williams, 24, was indicted by a Lucas County grand jury with two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of burglary. Attached to the charges were death-penalty specifications, specifically that two or more victims were killed and that the deaths occurred during the commission of another felony.

"I just want them to catch the rest of the people involved," said Clarke's distraught mother, Maytee Vazquez-Clarke, in a telephone interview. "I'm glad the prosecution went though with two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of aggravated burglary but it still doesn't bring my Johnny back."

Mr. Williams was arrested Sept. 22 and remains in custody at the Lucas County jail in lieu of $5 million bond.

He is charged with the Jan. 31 slayings of the couple, who were found dead in the Longacre Lane home of Miss Straub's parents. Autopsies showed both victims died of asphyxiation. Their wrists had been bound with duct tape and plastic bags were taped around their necks. Clarke's ankles also had been bound.

The families of both victims had asked that the case be presented as a death-penalty case. Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the prosecutor's office, said the grand jury reached a decision based on hearing evidence in the case.

"The only thing relayed to the grand jury was evidence of the crime related by the detective in the case," Mr. Lingo said.

Jim Verbosky, a spokesman for Miss Straub's family, said that they were relieved by the charges. He said the manner in which the two were killed makes the case that much more difficult for the family.

"When you're strangled, you are fighting and gasping for every breath you take," he said.

Mr. Verbosky said despite comments from members of Clarke's family that they speak on behalf of both the victims, Miss Straub's parents, through him, are only the voice of their daughter.

"Jeff and Mary Beth [Straub] will speak on Lisa's behalf," he said, adding that the family knows that there is a long road ahead of them. "… The family is definitely ready to be there and will be there [in court]."

Two other death-penalty cases are pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, including the aggravated murder case of Anthony Belton, charged in the 2008 slaying of a BP convenience store clerk.

Mr. Belton's case is on hold pending the defense argument in the Sixth District Court of Appeals challenging the constitutionality of portions of Ohio's death-penalty law.

Mr. Lingo acknowledged the delays other capital cases have encountered, but said it has had no impact on how the office prosecutes cases.

"We believe it would be inappropriate to fail to present a possible death-penalty case simply because they are more difficult or require more effort to present," he said. "As long as the death penalty is constitutional, cases that meet the requirements for the death penalty will be presented to the grand jury for consideration."

The third death-penalty case is that of John Winfield, of Flint, Mich., who is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in the Dec. 12 shooting death of Toledo resident Mark Ward. His trial is scheduled for March 5.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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