Like a scene out of a horror movie, that was how the murder of popular landscaper Tim Clements was discovered, when two teenagers went fishing at Snapping Shoals Creek on June 12, 2009.
Wrapped in a blue blanket, the boys first thought it was a dead animal. One threw a rock, then poked it with a stick. The other tried to lift the blanket with his fishing pole. That's when a leg slid out.
"You are going to hear about two different men, and how those men lived their lives," said District Attorney Layla Zon during the opening statements in the death penalty trial of Pablo Fernando Maldonado, the accused ringleader in the murder of Clements, his boss, and a man who, by all accounts, did his best to help Maldonado.
Zon told jurors that the two were friends, Clements loaned Maldonado money, helped him get utilities, a place to stay (in a duplex Clements owned) and vehicles. One of which was used to carry Clements' body to the place where it was dumped.
That friendship ended, and it ended violently, and it ended in a brutal murder that occurred on June 11, 2009... The motive was simple, the motive was money, but what this case is about is the ultimate betrayal."
Clements was last seen alive by another one of his employees, Curtis Thompson, as the two gassed up vehicles and equipment for the workday. At roughly 6:45 a.m., he left the gas station to go pick Maldonado up for work.
"Nothing by the end of this trial will surprise you," said Zon. "...What you will hear is [co-defendants] [Christian] Caldwell, [Brittany] Beasley and [Katria] McClain got together under the leadership of Pablo Maldonado... And as early as Tuesday of that week discussions began [about how] to kill Tim Clements."
According to Zon, they four defendants (McClain has taken a plea deal and Caldwell and Beasley remain in jail) lured Clements to the property next door (which was vacant at the time) saying that someone had been in there and was stealing pipes and there was water on the floor. They nailed the windows shut and put sheets on the walls to minimize cleanup.
As Clements walked into the duplex, Caldwell allegedly hid behind the front door and hit him over the head with a metal baseball bat. Though Clements went down, he was not out, so Maldonado allegedly beat him in the head with a hammer. Then they tied him up, put a Kroger bag over his head (also to minimize cleanup) and put him in the closet.
According to Zon, while Caldwell and Maldonado left to try and forge a check of Clements, Beasley was supposed to clean the mess and babysit, as was McClain, who failed to show up that day. Beasley, several months pregnant at the time, reportedly got "tired" of listening to Clements "gurgling" in the closet, his cell phone ringing, and went down the street to McClain's house where the two watched movies.
"They actually set their alarm clock so they could get up on time, be ready and be in place to murder this guy," said Zon. "You hear about biting the hand that feeds you? This man was striking the head of the man that fed him."
While Clements fought for life in the closet, and Beasley and McClain watched movies, Caldwell and Maldonado went to Gwinnett to try and cash a forged check for $2,500 at a buy-here-pay-here lot Clements had helped Maldonado purchase a vehicle at. The owner, suspicious, put the two off and told them he was out of money, to come back later. While they waited, the went to the food court in Gwinnett Place Mall and ate. The owner of the lot, Jerry Lonzo, never did give them the money or the check back. He did fax a copy to Clements' wife a day later, finding it odd.
Eventually, as Clements' family was filing a missing person's report and searching feverishly for him, Maldonado and McClain fled the state. A GPS device placed in the car by the lot helped to track them down in Alabama. Beasley and Caldwell were found locally, never having left. Although all denied any wrong-doing initially, eventually three began telling their version of the crime. However Maldonado reportedly told investigators that he would never hurt Clements, even calling him his "angel" and saying that "he was the man he is today because of Clements."
Maldonado's defense attorney Stephen R. Yekel with the Conflict Defenders Office, didn't disagree with much of what Zon told jurors. He also told them that Maldonado was sometimes "full of crap" and tended to embellish. A man who "people don't take seriously," Yekel said it could be because of Maldonado's small stature.
He told jurors that while there was an agreement between Maldonado, Beasley, Caldwell and McClain to rob Clements, there was never any intent to harm him.
"You'll be the judge as to who was the mastermind," he said. "I think the evidence will show that yes, Mr. Maldonado, for whatever reason, that he was that. And that Mr. Clements came into the apartment... as he started to go in the door Mr. Maldonado tried to change his mind, but it was too late. As he walked into that door he was struck and the results are why we're here today."
Yekel also told jurors there was a third man there that day. And that Caldwell ran the show. He decided who played what part, he struck Clements, and that Maldonado, while he was there, never struck his boss, his "angel."
Barbara Clements, took the stand and told jurors that her husband of 30 years, the father of her two children (now 20 and 14), was last seen by her the morning of June 9, 2009, as he left for work. Despite trying to call him that day and calling around looking for him, she never heard from her husband again. She even called Maldonado that night looking for her husband. Maldonado told her that Clements had gone to bid on some jobs and then to Home Depot. She said she believed him.
She testified that Maldonado had worked for Clements at his business C&C Landscaping, for about three years, and verified that he would loan Maldonado money and help him out, and that he would deduct those payments from his check. At the time of his death, Maldonado owed Clements about $8,000.
"I must have called every hospital, every police station. Calling everyone I knew hoping he was there," she said. On June 12, 2009, she filed a missing person's report as family friends continued to search, in vain, for Tim Clements.
Two friends, Arthur Darr and Randy Moore, went to the duplex searching for him. The back door was open to the duplex Maldonado rented, and after calling out, the two went in to search for their missing friend. Darr described the duplex as "trashed," with the exception of the front foyer, which was pristine and smelled of bleach. There was also brown spots in the front on the concrete, which further alarmed the two.
"I looked at Randy and said we need to get out of here. We don't need to be in this place."
Shortly after the missing person's report was entered in at the Newton County Sheriff's Office, Tim Clements body was found.
The trial continues in the courtroom of Judge Horace Johnson at 9:15 a.m. Thursday.