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Published: Thursday, 7/26/2012

Witness says defendant talked in jail

Scene of couple's killings described, ex-inmate testifies

BY ERICA BLAKE AND JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Samuel Williams, left, speaks with his attorney, John Thebes, during his murder trial.  He could face the death penalty for the 2011 killing of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub in Springfield Township. Samuel Williams, left, speaks with his attorney, John Thebes, during his murder trial. He could face the death penalty for the 2011 killing of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub in Springfield Township.
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Samuel Williams wasn't very open about his case with fellow inmates at the Lucas County jail until one night when he shared insight about events inside a Springfield Township home in January, 2011, said a Toledo man who testified Tuesday in Lucas County Pleas Court.

"One of the things [Williams] said was that he'll never forget how the bag made a crinkle noise when Lisa [Straub] breathed in," said Erik Yingling, who was incarcerated at the jail in December, 2011, with Williams. " … They were trying to torture them, for lack of a better word, to try to get Johnny [Clarke] to tell where the safe and money was."

Yingling testified before a jury Tuesday during the second day of testimony in the capital murder case against Williams, 24, of 1626 Kelsey Ave. Williams and co-defendant Cameo Pettaway, 23, are each charged with two counts of aggravated murder and kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary.

Mr. Pettaway, who was found to be developmentally disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty, is being tried simultaneously in another courtroom.

The men are charged in the asphyxiation deaths of Clarke, 23, and Ms. Straub, 21. The couple were found bound with duct tape and with bags over their heads in the Longacre Lane home of Ms. Straub's parents, where they lived.

During his testimony, Yingling said Williams was very tight-lipped about his case and never shared any of his paperwork with others in the cell block. He said that only a few times did Williams share information, likely because Yingling had already been sentenced to prison for his case and so was not considered "suspicious."

Yingling testified that Williams told him that he, Mr. Pettaway, and a third man went to the Straub home looking for heroin and cash.

"They did not go there to kill anybody," he testified, saying that he was told that the couple were tied up and that they put a bag over Ms. Straub's head to force Clarke to tell them where the money was hidden.

" … They would asphyxiate her until she passed out and then give her air. The third time, she didn't wake up," Yingling said.

Yingling further testified that Williams said that all they found was "monopoly money" -- cash with former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein depicted on it. He testified that Williams said they didn't take it because they didn't know how to change it into American dollars.

Ms. Straub's father, Jeff, previously testified he'd purchased about $4,500 in Iraqi currency as an investment.

Attorney John Thebes questioned Yingling on his judicial release from prison after serving about one month. Yingling said he was released, placed in work release for 45 days, served time on electronic monitoring, and is currently on four years of probation.

Mr. Thebes further questioned Yingling on the information he provided and how some of it was available by searching the Internet. He said the rest could be obtained from Williams' papers when Williams was in court or during recreation time.

Yingling did not testify during Mr. Pettaway's trial before Judge James Bates. Testifying before both juries was Clarke's father, John P. Clarke, Jr., who forced in the door at the Straub home to find his son's and Ms. Straub's bodies. The elder Clarke stared at both defendants during his testimony.

"His feet were taped. His ankles were taped. … He had a bag over his head," the elder Clarke told a jury of nine women and three men in Williams' trial. "The first thing I thought was that I have to rip this bag off and give him CPR. … I put my hands on his head to turn it and it was stiff as a board."

Taking time to steady himself, he testified about looking for, and eventually finding, his son during the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2011. He said that after realizing his son was dead, he tore open the bag covering Ms. Straub's face where a "horrible odor of spoiled blood" emitted. "These kids were tortured to death," he said.

During the first day of testimony, several of the victims' acquaintances testified, including Tiffany Williams (unrelated to the defendant), who called Clarke on the night he died and heard him talking to an unknown man, asking who he was and what he was doing. Several of Clarke's friends said that Clarke was known to brag about money when he had it, and other things that he had.

Also testifying in both trials Tuesday was Alexandra Cousino, 22, who said she knew both victims as well as Williams and Mr. Pettaway. Ms. Cousino testified that Williams and Mr. Pettaway "were friends growing up. They hung out a lot." While she also knew Clarke and Ms. Straub, she said she never introduced them to Williams and Mr. Pettaway.

She testified that Ms. Straub bought a "pit bull" puppy from her for $100, but only paid $50. Ms. Cousino and Clarke also had a dispute in January, 2011, over a car she bought from him but ultimately returned to him. She said she was upset about the car and at one point told Clarke she would beat up his girlfriend.

Judge Bates asked her whether she told Williams or Mr. Pettaway about the dispute with Clarke over the car. She said she did not.

Ed Biederstedt, a special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, was on the stand all morning Tuesday in Mr. Pettway's case.

He walked the jury through a series of photographs depicting the Straub home, the victims' bodies on the kitchen floor, and the locations of evidence he collected from the scene.

Mr. Biederstedt said he found a Newport cigarette butt near the door leading from the kitchen to the garage -- a cigarette that prosecutors said in opening statements was found to have the DNA of both Mr. Pettaway and Williams on it.

He showed the jury two broken cell phones, which were found in pieces in the kitchen and living room, as well as Clarke's black wallet which was found on his stomach.

The defense said in opening statements that the scene was not processed appropriately by investigators, which could have tainted the evidence.

Tanisha Madyun, who has a son with Mr. Pettaway, testified that he was living with her in East Toledo from about August, 2010 until February or March of 2011. Williams, she said, was Mr. Pettaway's longtime friend. Ms. Madyun said that both men smoked Newports, and she saw them share a cigarette more than once.

"Cameo would smoke half and give it to Sam, or Sam would smoke half and give it to Cameo," Ms. Madyun said.

Additional witnesses will testify today in both trials.

If Williams is convicted of the charges, his case will then proceed to a second phase during which the jury will determine whether to recommend death as his sentence.

Judge Dean Mandros is presiding over that case.

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



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