Although nearly impossible to confirm, Georgia Bureau of Investigations Medical Examiner Dr. Eric Eason testified Thursday that Tim Clements could have died not only from blunt force trauma to the head, but also smothering.
Found June 12, 2009 in Snapping Shoals Creek, the body of the 53-year-old landscaper was found by two teenagers out fishing. Like the plot line of a horror movie, one teen attempted to pull a blanket off what he assumed was a dead animal, only to have a leg slide out.
In the second day of the death penalty trial of Pablo Fernando Maldonado, 25, jurors heard more about the science involving in solving Clements' murder, while the first day of the trial focused on the emotions involved in his death.
In her opening statement, District Attorney Layla Zon told jurors that Maldonado was the ringleader of a group that conspired to rob and kill Clements, who was Maldonado's boss. Along with Maldonado, Brittany Beasley, 21, Christian Caldwell, 20, and Katria McClain, 19, have been charged with Clements' murder. Zon told jurors that Maldonado lured Clements to the duplex where he lived (and Clements owned), telling him the vacant apartment across from him had been vandalized. The plan was for Caldwell to stand behind the door with a baseball bat and strike Clements in the head.
Then-pregnant Beasley and McClain, who was just 16 at the time, were supposed to clean up afterward. Although McClain helped plan the crime, she was not present when it happened. Zon said that Caldwell struck Clements and then, when he went down but didn't die immediately, Maldonado beat him with a hammer.
Indeed, the medical examiner said that there were 12 different fractures inside the skull after it was opened.
"Nothing by the end of this trial will surprise you," Zon told jurors Monday, saying that as early as Tuesday of that week, the group began planning to kill Clements. "They actually set their alarm clock so they could get up on time, be ready and be in place to kill this guy... You hear about biting the hand that feeds you? This guy was striking the head of the man who fed him."
Maldonado's attorney, Stephen Yekel, conceded that Clements helped Maldonado. He lent him money, helped him get vehicles, a place to live and utilities, then he took an amount out of Maldonado's check when he was paid by Clements who owned the landscaping company Maldonado had worked at for about three years. However, he described Maldonado as a person who embellishes and that people didn't take seriously. He also said that while Maldonado helped plan the murder, he didn't actually strike Clements, and that the ringleader was Caldwell, not Maldonado.
"You'll be the judge as to who was the mastermind," he told jurors.
McClain's mother Lakitisha testified that her daughter was a girl who typically would abide by the rules. She knew the teen was dating Maldonado, but had no idea that anything was being planned. She said Maldonado, as well as Caldwell and Beasley, would come over to the house and occasionally eat dinner. One night, days before the murder, Katria - with Maldonado standing beside her - asked to borrow a hammer so that Maldonado could nail the windows shut. She reportedly told her mother it was because they had kicked a girl out and they didn't want them sneaking into the home.
The night before the murder, she asked her mother if she could go over to Maldonado's house the next morning and help Brittany Beasley babysit in the early morning - around 6:30 a.m. McClain didn't show the next morning, and both Caldwell and Maldonado came to her home searching for her.
She also came to her mother following the murder, that she, along with Maldonado, told her mother Maldonado was an illegal immigrant and that INS was searching for him. She wanted permission to spend time with him in California, and she was told no. Although she didn't see her daughter leave, the next time she would see, her would be after she had been arrested for murder.