Calling the deaths of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke "barbaric to the extreme," Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Dean Mandros sentenced a Toledo man Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"No one should leave this Earth in the cruel and unusual manner that Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke met their ends," the judge told Samuel Williams before imposing the sentence. "No family should have to suffer the loss as the Straub family and the Clarke family have had inflicted upon them, and no one in this community should ever have to worry about you wandering the streets again, wondering about what you may be capable of doing at some point in the future."
The judge then sentenced Williams, 24, to two consecutive terms of life without parole.
After a four-day trial that included 27 witnesses and more than 130 exhibits, Williams was found guilty July 27 of the two murder counts plus two counts of kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary for his role in the Jan. 30, 2011, asphyxiation deaths of the Springfield Township couple.
Ms. Straub, 20, and Clarke, 21, 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.
Judge Mandros also sentenced Williams to 10 years in prison on each count of kidnapping and aggravated burglary. He ordered the sentences to be served consecutively to each other but concurrently to the two life sentences.
In an emotional statement to the court, Clarke's mother, Maytee Vazquez-Clarke, related how her eldest son's death has affected her family and her life.
She recounted trying to find her son that night and how she and her husband, John Clarke, discovered the two lifeless bodies locked inside the Longacre Lane home.
"As for me, what Samuel Williams did that night destroyed my life," she said. "The images of what occurred that horrific night are seared into my brain. I am completely consumed by them. … The not being able to save my child and his girlfriend."
Although at one time he faced the death penalty, Williams was spared death when the jury that found him guilty of the crimes failed to make a sentencing recommendation to the judge during the second, or mitigation, phase of the trial.
Jurors heard testimony from six defense witnesses, including Williams' mother and wife, but did not reach a decision after deliberating for three hours. On July 30, the jury of nine women and three men did not recommend the death penalty - which must be a unanimous decision -- and failed to agree on either of the remaining possible life sentences.
For each of the aggravated murder counts, the jurors -- as well as Judge Mandros -- could choose possible sentences of life in prison with parole after 25 years, life in prison with parole after 30 years, or life without parole.
A juror reached at home after the conclusion of the trial said the group "was all over the place" when attempting to decide on a sentence.
"No one could agree on anything," said the juror, who asked that her name not be published.
The juror further stated that the jury believed that there were additional people involved in the case but that they knew they were to decide only on the evidence against Williams.
"It didn't have a satisfying ending to us," she stated. "We believed more were involved."
Presented at the trial was evidence that a mixture of Williams' and co-defendant Cameo Pettaway's DNA was on a cigarette butt found in the Straub home. However, their DNA was not on the duct tape used to bind the victims, although complete profiles were found of both unknown male and female DNA.
Unique to Williams' trial was the testimony of an informant, 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.
Wearing a brown jumpsuit and shackled with leg and wrist cuffs, Williams declined to make a statement prior to sentencing Friday. Attorneys John Thebes and Jane Roman also declined to make a statement in court.
After the sentencing hearing, Mr. Thebes spoke about the case, in which there had previously been a gag order put in place. He noted that the jury had a difficult task sifting through the evidence to understand what happened and that the unknown DNA shows that there is still more to know about the incident.
"This was a very difficult case," he noted. He added that his client is planning to appeal.
The guilty verdict against Williams was handed down last month, 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 judge's decision followed 3 1/2 days of testimony but before the trial got to the jury-deliberation stage.
Mr. Thebes said Friday that there were significant differences between the cases against Williams and Mr. Pettaway.
"The cases were similar, no doubt about it, but they differed in critical areas," he said.
"The critical difference was the statements from the defendant, as far as jail calls and through the informant. Anytime a defendant makes a statement, that changes an entire focus of the case. It usually takes the focus off the evidence and onto the statements."
Prosecutor Julia Bates said Friday the judges in both cases have a different role in the judicial system than the prosecutor's office. Mrs. Bates, who is married to Judge Bates, said she respected the law and therefore the judges' decisions.
"We did what we thought was the right thing based on what we know, based on what the evidence was and we did the best we could," she said.
Mr. Pettaway's attorney, Mark Geudtner, declined to comment immediately after the acquittal but said this week his client has maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings. He said that while he and co-counsel Merle Dech believed their client, they "took it one step further and elected to have him take a polygraph test."
Acknowledging that it was an unstipulated test and that the results are not admissible in court, Mr. Geudtner said that Mr. Pettaway took the test in June and passed. He added that he took those results to the prosecutor's office prior to the trial.
Mr. Geudtner said Judge Bates was not aware of the polygraph when he issued an acquittal before the jury was given the case.
"His decision was based solely on the evidence, or lack thereof, presented at the trial," he said.
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the prosecutor's office and one of the lawyers prosecuting the Williams case, said that the office was informed of the test but was never provided with the result charts for independent analysis. He said that this information is essential in determining the veracity of the test.
"They were asked on numerous occasions to turn over the charts so we could have an expert look at them because polygraphs are subjective in nature and so subject to interpretation by the examiner. That's why they are generally not accepted in court," Mr. Lingo said.
Access to the result charts would be essential when evaluating the test, agreed Lawrence Wasser, a certified and licensed polygraph examiner based in Michigan. He said that like any science test, the opposing party should have a right to have an expert review the results.
Mr. Geudtner responded that the test was not something that was done to be offered in court but simply for edification purposes.
"If it doesn't mean anything to them, so be it. The bottom line is that we got a report from a certified polygraph examiner who was peer-reviewed by another examiner," he said. "The two of them concluded that Mr. Pettaway was telling the truth."
Jim Verbosky, Ms. Straub's uncle and a family spokesman, said after Williams' sentencing Friday that the family wished that Mr. Pettaway's case had been allowed to go to a jury. He said that the family was disappointed in Judge Bates' decision.
Mr. Verbosky added the family was pleased with Judge Mandros' sentence of life without parole and thanked all those involved in the case, including investigators, prosecutors, and courthouse personnel.
"Obviously we're very happy that Samuel Williams will go to jail for the rest of his life and, like the judge said, he will be forgotten," he said. "Our niece, Lisa, will not be forgotten."
Mr. Verbosky added that his family believes there are others involved in the deaths and said they will be back in court when those people are arrested.
Mr. Lingo said after the sentencing hearing that investigators believe there are more people involved and that the investigation is ongoing. The crime, he added, was one that affected not only the victims' family and friends but the entire community.
"The trial court had the opportunity over two weeks to hear the evidence in this case involving the brutal method that was used to kill these two victims," he said. "We believe that life without parole is the appropriate sentence."
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.