A woman who talked on the phone to Johnny Clarke before he and his girlfriend were found dead, bound, and with bags over their heads testified before Lucas County Common Pleas Court jurors Monday that Clarke seemed surprised by someone he didn't know.
"He had an excited tone. … It was not a normal tone at all," said friend Tiffany Williams, 25. " … He said, 'Who the … are you? What the hell are you doing?' He said it three or four times and then said 'I'll call you back Tif.' "
Ms. Williams, who explained she was not related to the defendant, was one of 12 witnesses to testify during the death penalty trial of Samuel Williams, 24, of 1626 Kelsey Ave. She also testified during the simultaneous trial in a separate courtroom of co-defendant Cameo Pettaway, 23, who was found to meet the legal definition of developmentally disabled and therefore ineligible to be put to death.
The two men are each charged with two counts each of aggravated murder and kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary.
Ms. Williams testified that she and a friend, Zachary Burkett, were supposed to hang out on the night of Jan. 30, 2011, with Ms. Straub and Clarke and that the four were going to get high on Percocet pills. She further testified that she was on the phone with Clarke when she heard him yelling and an unknown male's voice was in the background.
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Ms. Williams said that Clarke never called her back and she wasn't able to reach him nor Ms. Straub again that night. She said she wasn't worried at first. Mr. Burkett testified during both trials that he also wasn't worried initially. He figured Clarke was ignoring him, that he'd found another source of Percocet that night and didn't need him.
Later, after buying some pills, Ms. Williams and Mr. Burkett said, they drove out to the Springfield Township house of Ms. Straub's parents, where the couple lived.
Asked why she didn't call 911, Ms. Williams responded, "I was afraid to call police and have them go out there and find drugs in the house."
When questioned by Williams' attorney, John Thebes, Ms. Williams denied that she was involved in setting up a drug transaction between Clarke and someone else that night.
Mr. Thebes stated that when Ms. Williams arrived, "You saw something. You saw something to the point that you had to call someone. … What did you see?"
Ms. Williams denied that she saw anything and Mr. Thebes later withdrew the question.
Mr. Thebes also questioned Mr. Burkett about being the "middle man" in drug transactions. Mr. Burkett said that would be "bad business" and that he never sent anyone over to Clarke to purchase drugs.
Ms. Williams said she and Mr. Burkett left the house after finding no one home and returned later with Clarke's father. They waited until sheriff's deputies who were checking the house left, then again knocked at the door and peered inside, seeing nothing.
Clarke's mother arrived while they were there, and sheriff's deputies again returned. Ms. Williams and Mr. Burkett left after talking to deputies and didn't learn of their friends' deaths until Clarke's mother called Ms. Williams.
During Williams' trial before Judge Dean Mandros, 911 recordings were played for the jurors. Clarke's mother, Maytee Vasquez Clarke, called three times during the evening, prompting sheriff's deputies to conduct two checks on the house before the victims' bodies were found.
Lucas County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Knorek told the jury he was at the Straubs' house twice before the bodies were found, and at no time saw anything amiss outside the house or inside after peering through the front door and a sun room in back. The TV and some lights were on, he said, but nothing appeared to have been disturbed.
The final call to the house came at about 3 a.m. Jan. 31, 2011, after Clarke's father apparently kicked in the door and found the victims on the kitchen floor.
Sheriff's deputies testified that Clarke's wrists and ankles were bound by black duct tape and a bag was over his head and taped around his neck. Ms. Straub's wrists were taped and a bag was taped over her head.
Jeff and Mary Beth Straub each testified individually they lived in their Springfield Township home with their youngest daughter, Lisa, and her boyfriend, who Mrs. Staub said had been kicked out of his parents' home. The couple said that they expected the pair to live by their rules, which included no smoking in the house and keeping the house orderly.
The Straubs further testified that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary in January, 2011, and left for a Caribbean cruise Jan. 27.
Mr. Straub testified that he did not keep large amounts of cash or valuable jewelry in the home but that he did have about $4,500 in Iraqi currency.
During Mr. Pettaway's trial, Judge James Bates asked Mr. Straub why he had the Iraqi money and whether it had been disturbed. Mr. Straub said he had acquired it "as an investment," and that all of it was returned to him by investigators.
The Straubs said that once they were allowed back in their house after the homicides, they walked from room to room looking at what had been damaged, what might be missing. Mrs. Straub testified that the only thing that appeared to be stolen was $40 in change from a jar of coins and $40 cash that was in a wallet in a drawer.
The two returned home from their cruise after receiving word that their daughter had been killed.
Mr. and Mrs. Straub both testified that they did not know their daughter and her boyfriend were abusing Percocet or that Clarke allegedly sold marijuana to support himself.
Still, numerous friends who took the stand testified that they took the prescription painkiller and smoked marijuana regularly.
"What this whole group is is people moving pills," explained an acquaintance, Matt Yockey, 21, during testimony in Williams' trial. "That's what this is."
None of the witnesses who testified Monday said they knew either Williams or Mr. Pettaway.
The trials will resume today. In both courtrooms, a panel of nine women and three men has been seated as jurors.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.