Defense attorneys Jane Roman, left, and John Thebes flank Samuel Williams, 24, of East Toledo as the prosecution describes its case in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
A Newport cigarette butt provides "the untold story of who committed" the slayings of a Springfield Township couple, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor told jurors hearing Samuel Williams' capital murder case Friday.
That cigarette butt, Rob Miller said during opening statements in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, contained the DNA of both Mr. Williams and Cameo Pettaway, who are charged in the Jan. 31, 2011, asphyxiation deaths of Lisa Straub, 20, and Johnny Clarke, 21.
The young couple were found on a floor in her parents' home with plastic bags tied tightly around their necks with duct tape.
"The murderers in the case made a mistake -- a mistake that only time and science can tell you," Mr. Miller said. "You will hear testimony that in the corner of the doorway leading from the kitchen to the garage … police recovered a smoked Newport cigarette butt."
In the weeks and months after the slayings, Mr. Miller said, investigators collected and analyzed numerous fingerprints, handprints, palm prints, and DNA samples from the ransacked house, but none matched any persons of interest -- until last September.
Soon thereafter, Mr. Williams, 24, of 1626 Kelsey Ave., and Mr. Pettaway, 23, of 133 Essex St., were indicted on two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of aggravated burglary.
Assistant Prosecutor Rob Miller demonstrates how Johnny Clarke's hands and wrists were bound with tape the night he and Lisa Straub were attacked in Miss Straub's parents' home.
In addition to the genetic evidence, Mr. Miller told the jury, Mr. Williams' guilt will become apparent when jurors hear tape-recorded phone conversations involving Mr. Williams as well as phone records that didn't make sense to investigators initially, but did once Mr. Williams was identified through his DNA.
Defense attorney Jane Roman told the jury that yes, her client's DNA is on the cigarette butt. But she suggested jurors also look at where his genetic signature is missing.
"Anticipate the case will show you the length the Lucas County Sheriff's Department and the [Bureau of Criminal Investigation] went to collect and test items and evidence -- clothing, clothing fibers, plastic bags, fingernails, clippings, hair samples, fingerprints, shoe impressions," she said. "Of all of these items collected during the investigation, none of these items collected and tested can be attributed to Sam Williams other than the cigarette butt."
She urged jurors to pay close attention and use their common sense as the state presents its evidence, which includes DNA found on another cigarette butt that belongs to a known female, as well as DNA lifted from the duct tape used to bind Clarke that is from an unknown female and an unknown male. Neither of those individuals has been identified, she said.
Similar to the case laid out by defense attorneys for Mr. Pettaway on Wednesday, Ms. Roman suggested sheriff's deputies made mistakes, that there were other more likely suspects in the killings, but that detectives zeroed in on Mr. Williams after the DNA test came back to him and Mr. Pettaway.
"The evidence will reveal that nobody knows for sure who is responsible for the untimely deaths of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke, but the state will attempt to convince you from their story, from one cigarette butt located at the scene that Samuel Williams is responsible for these crimes," she said. "No other physical evidence can be linked to Samuel Williams, and don't discount that when you are evaluating this case."
After opening arguments, the jury was taken to the Straubs' Longacre Lane home. Jurors were shown the front door Clarke's father kicked in the night of the killings when he was looking for his son and Ms. Straub.
Jurors then were led to the rear of the house and, after putting white paper slippers over their shoes, toured the inside of the home where Clarke's and Ms. Straub's bodies were found.
In his opening statements, Mr. Miller had laid out details of what he called the young couple's "slow, torturous death," saying a deputy coroner would be testifying that both died of asphyxiation caused by a lack of oxygen and of strangulation because of the tightness of the duct tape around their necks.
The Straubs' home, he said, had been ransacked.
"You can infer a ransacked house; the killers were looking for something: drawers opened, clothes thrown about, crawl space exposed," he said. "Looking for money, drugs, looking for something."
Before the jury was led into the courtroom, Judge Dean Mandros cautioned trial spectators to refrain from any inappropriate behavior.
"We will not tolerate anything that could be potentially disruptive to this proceeding," he said. "If you don't think you can maintain yourself, don't be here, because I can assure you if you can't maintain yourself, you won't be here."
Judge James Bates issued the same warning on Wednesday to those attending Mr. Pettaway's trial. Testimony in both cases is to begin Monday.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.
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