A day after his co-defendant was acquitted by a judge in the asphyxiation deaths of a Springfield Township couple, Samuel Williams was found guilty of all charges Friday by a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury.
Williams, 24, was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of aggravated burglary. He was also found guilty of capital specifications attached to the murder charges.
The jury of nine women and three men returned the verdict about 10 a.m., after deliberating for more than seven hours over two days. The jury is to return Monday morning to begin hearing testimony for a second phase, during which it will decide whether to recommend a sentence of death.
Williams was convicted in the Jan. 30, 2011, deaths of Lisa Straub, 20, and Johnny Clarke, 21. The couple were found in the Springfield Township home of Ms. Straub's parents with their hands bound behind their backs and plastic bags secured around their necks with duct tape. Clarke's ankles also were bound with duct tape.
Ms. Straub's parents were in the courtroom when the verdicts were read by Judge Dean Mandros. Jeff and Mary Beth Straub maintained their composure while in the courtroom, but tears were shed by family members who gathered afterward in the hallway.
Members of the Clarke family also began crying as the verdicts were read. Clarke's mother, Maytee Vazquez-Clarke, was excluded from the courthouse by a July 17 court order and therefore was not present. His father, John P. Clarke, who testified during both trials, was not present when the jury returned the verdicts.
No family members of Williams appeared to be in the courtroom.
A gag order was issued early in the proceedings prohibiting participants from discussing the case. Jim Verbosky, a Straub family spokesman who fought back tears while hearing the verdicts, said he had comments about both Williams' and Cameo Pettaway's cases, but that the family would wait until the mitigation phase was over.
The verdict was handed down a day after Mr. Pettaway was acquitted of similar charges and was freed from custody.
Citing a lack of sufficient evidence, Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates acquitted Mr. Pettaway of all charges. The decision followed 3 1/2 days of testimony but before the trial got to the jury deliberation stage.
When reached by phone, Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke, applauded Friday's guilty verdicts but had critical words for Judge Bates.
"Judge Bates failed us. He failed Johnny and Lisa," she said. "What he did [Thursday] is to let a killer out on the street."
Although much of the evidence was similar in both trials, Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke said she believed evidence that could not be introduced in Mr. Pettaway's trial might have made a difference. She referred to jail phone calls between Williams and Mr. Pettaway's brother, Stephen Pettaway, as an example.
"Why do you think the jury would find Samuel Williams guilty if they didn't have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt?" she asked.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke said she will continue to fight for justice for her oldest son and his girlfriend. The conviction of Williams, she said, does not bring her son back but helps in some ways.
"I'm glad this demon is going to fry because if they let him out, too, he will continue to hurt and kill people," she said. "It's just really sad the justice system failed us in Judge Bates' courtroom. They say, and I'm going to tell you right now, the world will be destroyed not by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything about it."
The verdict in Williams' case followed three days of testimony from 27 witnesses, including one for the defense, and the inclusion of more than 130 exhibits.
During closing arguments Thursday, the prosecution and the defense asked the jurors to consider all of the evidence, especially DNA, although each side tried to show how it pointed in different directions.
A mixture of Williams' and Mr. Pettaway's DNA was present on a cigarette butt found inside the Straub home. Their DNA was not on the duct tape used to bind the victims, although male and female DNA was found on the tape.
The DNA evidence was presented at both trials.
Unique to Williams' trial was the testimony of Erik Yingling, who was incarcerated with Williams and testified that Williams admitted details of the crime to him.
Also presented at Williams' trial were conversations recorded from jail phone calls.
In one call, Williams said to Stephen Pettaway, "It was supposed to be you with me but l'il bro had to step up and take your spot." The conversation continued and Williams said, "He didn't do it right, but he did it good enough."
Jail records given to the jury showed that Stephen Pettaway was in custody at the Lucas County jail at the time of the January, 2011, slayings.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Jurors will return Monday to hear additional testimony and determine whether the aggravating circumstance of the crime outweigh any mitigating factors of Williams' life.
Williams was charged with two death or aggravating specifications for each murder count -- that there were two or more victims and that the deaths occurred during the commission of a felony in which the defendant was the principal offender or the crime was premeditated.
While jurors found Williams guilty of the first specification involving multiple victims, they found him not guilty of the second specification.
Only one specification is needed to proceed to the second phase.
After hearing evidence presented by the defense and state, jurors will decide whether to recommend the death sentence. Ultimately, Judge Mandros will impose the sentence.
While Judge Mandros can accept the recommendation or give a life sentence, he could not sentence Williams to death unless the jury recommends it.
Before releasing jurors for the weekend, Judge Mandros admonished them not to review any media reports of either case because their service was not over.
"This case is very different than the co-defendant's case," the judge told jurors. "For all anyone knows, there were different witnesses presented and different evidence presented. That case should have no impact on your deliberations in this case."
Staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.