Testimony continued Wednesday from the co-defendant that defense attorneys argue was the actual ringleader in the 2009 murder of Conyers landscaper Timothy Clements and not their client Pablo Maldonado.
Christian Caldwell, one of four co-defendants in the death penalty trial, had entered a guilty plea last week on condition that he testify in Maldonado’s trial. Caldwell is expected to receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Picking up where he left off Tuesday, Caldwell said his previous statements to investigators were about 40 percent true and that his memory was better now that he wasn’t smoking marijuana every day. He also said his testifying wasn’t about the plea deal.
He said he lied in large part to keep his then-girlfriend Brittney Beasley out of jail but can't remember any of the letters he wrote in jail said and can't remember most of the lies he told authorities in his statements.
"I was 17 then and I was scared" said Caldwell. "I hated to sit here and tell you I participated in this and other people participated in this."
Caldwell, 20, said he had lived with Maldonado only three weeks before the arrest and had moved in about a month after first meeting him.
During that time, Caldwell was unemployed and did not pay rent, through there was an agreement on a $300 charge for himself and Beasley starting in September.
Caldwell met Clements at least twice - including once when he cut his grass the week before the murder and was paid $20 cash. The size of Clements’ house and the number of cars in the driveway impressed Caldwell and led him to believe Clements could have had a large amount of cash on him, possibly up to $10,000.
Three different plans to rob Clements were put in to place - each involved putting water on the floor to make it appear the lines had burst or were cut out for copper – but the first two robbery plans didn’t work out.
On Wednesday, the four co-defendants role-played the third plan. This time, Caldwell said he was going to knock out Clements with the aluminum baseball bat and Maldonado and Caldwell were going to tie him to a chair and force him to write a $2,500 check. Caldwell, whose face was to be covered by a bandana, was going to punch Maldonado to make it look like he was robbed as well.
But on the day of the murder, after Caldwell struck and knocked down Clements with the bat, Maldonado then struck Clements five to six times in the head with the claw side of the hammer. The foyer was then covered with blood. Caldwell claimed he was stunned because hitting Clements with a hammer was not part of the plan.
On the stand, he became adamant that the victim was not bleeding from the wound caused by using the aluminum baseball bat. He said Maldonado placed a plastic bag over Clements' head, placed his body in the closet and nailed it shut.
Caldwell, Beasley and Maldonado cleaned up before the boys left in Clements truck with landscaping equipment trailer attached. At Panola Road, they unloaded two lawn mowers, weed eaters, trimmers into vacant apartment at a friend’s apartment complex and asked him to keep an eye on equipment. They then abandoned the trailer at a business near the middle school Caldwell had attended in Lithonia before driving Clements' truck back to Covington. They bought bleach at the corner of Salem and Kirkland Road and walked back to the duplex. At this point Beasley called to state Clements phone was ringing in the closet. Maldonado took Clements phone, deleted his number out of the phone and put the phone battery in a bowl of water.
Later that night Maldonado called Caldwell at a friend's house and said they need to get rid of the body. They placed Clements' body to the truck of a car on a piece of plastic to prevent blood seeping into the truck and then covered the body with the sheet. Caldwell suggested a place in Lithonia where the body "wouldn't be found for a while" and Maldonado then said he knew of somewhere even better. They drove to the river, placed the body on the railing and pushed it over.
The teens then drove to Waffle House and to the apartment of Maldonado’s friend.
Caldwell said Maldonado told him the next day they have to get rid of Clements truck because of finger print and they discussed burning the truck when a friend called to say the police were at the house.
The co-defendant told the court while he was not physically threatened, Maldonado had told him he would “rat” him out if he didn’t help.
In the afternoon, prosecutors played tape of a “rolling interview” conducted June 15, 2009 by Newton County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Marty Roberts in his SUV with Pablo Maldonado. Roberts had picked up Maldonado after investigators tracked him down and stopped him in Anniston, Alabama. During the interview, Maldonado led Roberts and another investigator in the car some of the locations involved in the murder.
During the interview, Maldonado told Roberts “It feels like they’re trying to get me, frame me.”
“All that stuff was going on. It kind of made sense to me. I don’t know how they got rid of the body.”
Maldonado said he had not looked in the trunk of his car, although he had discussed previously that there had been a bad smell in the car.
Roberts told Maldonado, during the interview, that investigators knew Tim Clements had been in Maldonado’s apartment, that Clements’ body had left that apartment wrapped in a sheet, that his body had ended up in the creek and that Maldonado’s neighbors had talked about killing Clements.
“I ain’t had nothing to do (with it),” said Maldonado in the interview. “I ain’t had no cause. I ain’t had no reason. I ain’t know nothing about it.”
He asked Roberts if he was a witness or a suspect, and Roberts explained a person can be considered both a witness and a suspect.
The trial continues Thursday in Newton County Superior Court before Judge Eugene Benton.