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9th District affirms man’s third murder conviction for woman’s death

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 15, 2019

A Summit County jury did not lose its way when convicting a man of killing the mother of his child after his third aggravated murder trial, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Willard McCarley was arrested in 2004 for a murder that had occurred 12 years earlier. The victim, C.P., was the 26-year-old mother of his son and was in the process of seeking child support from McCarley, according to case summary.

A neighbor discovered C.P.’s body under a blanket on the couch of her locked apartment on Jan. 20, 1992. The victim had a belt looped around her neck, a small plastic bag in her mouth and multiple head wounds.

C.P.’s two young sons were home when she was murdered. The oldest boy was age 3 at the time, and was able to unlock the apartment door for the neighbor.

The oldest boy never wavered in his statement that a policeman had hurt his mother.

In 1995, McCarley was arrested on an unrelated incident at his home. While being taken into custody, an officer noticed a deputy sheriff’s jacket and a hat with a sheriff’s insignia hanging on a dolly in the garage. Since McCarley had no law enforcement affiliations, the police confiscated the items.

McCarley was arrested for C.P.’s murder nine years later after DNA testing, which had not been available at the time of the murder, was performed on swabs taken from each end of the belt that was found looped around the victim’s neck. Experts determined McCarley could not be excluded as the source of the major profile.

He was convicted after his first jury trial, but it was overturned on appeal because the trial court had improperly vouched for a key witness in the presence of the jury. On remand, McCarley’s motion to suppress challenging the seizure of the sheriff’s jacket and hat found in his garage was denied.

His second trial also resulted in a conviction, which the 9th District affirmed. However, in 2015, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, determined his second trial had resulted in a violation of his rights under the Confrontation Clause. The 6th Circuit then ordered the District Court to issue a conditional writ of habeas corpus.

A third trial was held, and he was found guilty of aggravated murder a third time. McCarley was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years.

In his most recent appeal, McCarley argued his conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Writing for the appellate panel, 9th District Judge Julie A. Schafer disagreed.

Several witnesses testified that McCarley had been upset that C.P. planned to take him to court to seek child support for their son. An acquaintance testified that he had run into McCarley at the unemployment office and that the appellant “said he would kill her first before he would pay child support.” At the time, the acquaintance did not take the threat seriously.

C.P.’s mother told the jury that the day before her murder, her daughter had been upset over an argument she had with McCarley, who reportedly told her “he would see her dead before he would pay child support.”

The victim’s oldest son was 28 during the third trial. He testified seeing his mother on the couch and two men arguing. After one man put a pillow on his mother’s head, one of the men told him to go back to bed and that he would be killed if he said anything.

Officer Eric Breiding, the first officer on the scene, took the stand to say that as soon as C.P.’s oldest son saw him, the boy said, “He did it. He hurt mommy,” and that the boy repeated that every time he saw a uniformed officer that morning.

McCarley’s former girlfriend testified she was with the appellant on the day he allegedly argued with C.P. in the parking lot of her apartment complex. She denied he and C.P. argued or that McCarley threatened C.P. McCarley’s mother testified her son was home when C.P.’s murder was thought to have occurred, but under cross-examination, admitted she suffered from health problems that affected her memory.

The appellate panel concluded that the state’s large amount of circumstantial evidence – when viewed in its entirety – implicated McCarley.

“There was evidence that McCarley was angry with C.P. for seeking child support, that she was afraid of him, and that he threatened her life a few days before her murder,” Judge Schafer wrote in her opinion. “While C.P.’s mother may have failed to report that specific threat at an earlier date, she was not the only witness who testified that McCarley verbally threatened C.P.’s life.

“… The jury heard testimony that C.P.’s eldest son reacted fearfully when encountering uniformed officers and indicated that a policeman had hurt his mother. Because the state produced evidence that McCarley owned and sometimes wore a deputy sheriff’s jacket and hat, the jury reasonably could have inferred that he was wearing those items when the murder occurred.”

In addition, the jury reasonably could have concluded the profile the DNA analysts uncovered was attributable to the attack and McCarley rather than to any prior, incidental touching on his son’s part, she added.

Appellate judges Thomas Teodosio and Lynne Callahan concurred the case should be affirmed.

The case is cited State v. McCarley, 2018-Ohio-4685.