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Published: Thursday, 7/19/2012

Both sides lay out cases in Pettaway murder trial

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cameo Pettaway is charged along with another man in two slayings in Springfield Township. Cameo Pettaway is charged along with another man in two slayings in Springfield Township.
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Photos of the bodies of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke on their backs inside her parents' Springfield Township home make it look almost as if the young couple died peacefully. Nothing is further from the truth, Tim Braun, an assistant Lucas County Prosecutor, told jurors hearing the case against Cameo Pettaway on Wednesday.

"They didn't die peacefully. They died struggling, gasping for air inside a plastic bag, choked by duct tape tightly wrapped around their necks," Mr. Braun said during opening statements in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Autopsies showed that Ms. Straub, 20, and her boyfriend, 21, had bruising to their knees, elbows, hips, and chins, indicating there was indeed a struggle the night they died, Jan. 31, 2011.

Mr. Braun said other evidence indicates Clarke's killers held him down, and he probably died first because the black duct tape that bound Ms. Straub had cardboard from the end of the roll attached to it.

The prosecution laid out its case for the first time Wednesday as the trial of Mr. Pettaway, 23, of 133 Essex St. got under way before Judge James Bates. Mr. Braun said both Clarke and Ms. Straub had been abusing the prescription painkiller Percocet, and on the night they were killed, they had planned to have friends over and try to buy some illegal drugs. Ms. Straub's parents were on a cruise, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and had left Ms. Straub and her boyfriend at their home while they were gone.

Mr. Braun said it was months after the deaths that investigators first connected Mr. Pettaway and co-defendant Samuel Williams to the crime scene. The butt of a Newport cigarette found near the door leading from the house to the garage was analyzed at a laboratory, revealing the DNA of both defendants, Mr. Braun said.

"The first time the names of Samuel Williams and Cameo Pettaway came up in this investigation was through the genetic analysis of that cigarette butt," Mr. Braun said. "It didn't come up by reconstructing the lives of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke."

Although both men were indicted on two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of aggravated burglary, defense attorney Mark Geudtner told the jury the cigarette butt is the only evidence linking Mr. Pettaway to the crime.

"There's none of Cameo Pettaway's DNA found anywhere else at the crime scene -- not on the bags, not on the duct tape, not on any of the other physical items that were found in the crime scene area," he said. "What the prosecution cannot prove is that Cameo Pettaway's DNA got on that cigarette butt in connection with the commission of these homicides, and that's their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Mr. Geudtner told the jury that Mr. Pettaway and Mr. Williams are friends from childhood, that they both smoke Newports, that perhaps Mr. Pettaway gave Mr. Williams a cigarette and perhaps Mr. Williams went to the Straub home to buy marijuana from Clarke. He said Mr. Pettaway maintains he was never at that house.

Both Mr. Braun and Mr. Geudtner said that the DNA of others -- unknown persons -- was found on the duct tape used to bind the victims' hands and Clarke's ankles. Mr. Braun told the jury that prosecutors believe others were involved in the killings.

"A lot of this case is dependent on the circumstantial evidence because the circumstantial evidence demonstrates exactly what was done in that house to Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke," Mr. Braun told the jury. " … The other issue becomes who was involved, and that's a little harder. And I can tell you right now, it's the belief of the state of Ohio there were other people [who] were involved, not just Cameo Pettaway, not just Samuel Williams."

Mr. Geudtner suggested Lucas County sheriff's investigators failed to follow up leads on those suspects once Mr. Pettaway and Mr. Williams were arrested and that they "manipulated and corrupted" the crime scene.

"The evidence will show that there are a number of other suspects other than Cameo Pettaway who had motives that are actually more likely than Cameo to have been involved in these homicides," Mr. Geudtner said. " … You may be disappointed to learn that at this point actually nobody knows for sure who killed Johnny and Lisa."

Judge Bates sent the jury home after opening statements and advised them to return to court at 9 a.m. Monday for the first witnesses. Those witnesses also will be called to testify in Mr. Williams' trial, which will be happening simultaneously in the courtroom of Judge Dean Mandros.



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