PERRY -- Two of three men accused in an alleged murder-for-hire conspiracy in Warner Robins entered not guilty pleas Wednesday in Houston County Superior Court.
Joni Clements, a clinical nurse for the 78th Medical Operations Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, was shot four to five times in the upper torso with a .22-caliber sawed-off rifle in the master bedroom of her Westwood Drive home Feb. 8, 2011. Warner Robins police detective Mark Wright testified during a previous court hearing that Clements begged for her life.
Her husband, James “Eddy” Clements, 55, and Robert Sybert, 53, who cleaned the family pool for the Clements family, both entered not-guilty pleas before Judge George F. Nunn.
Clements, a sheet metal mechanic for the 559th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at the base, is accused of hiring Richard Grant Sybert, 30, of Warner Robins, to kill his wife.
Richard Grant Sybert’s arraignment also had been scheduled for Wednesday but was continued because of additional procedures required now that case against him is a capital case, said District Attorney George Hartwig. Hartwig is not seeking the death penalty against the other two men.
Robert Sybert, 53, the father of Richard Grant Sybert, is accused of being his son’s getaway driver and providing the gun used in the slaying.
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Clements entered his plea with Macon attorney Laura D. Hogue at his side and members of his family, including his daughter and mother, in the courtroom.
The separate hearings for Clements and Robert Sybert were short, lasting only a few minutes each. Both entered written pleas, and the charges against them were read aloud by Hartwig.
Clements and Sybert were both shackled and wearing orange jail jumpsuits.
Hartwig said outside of the courtroom that he expects all three men will be tried separately. He declined to elaborate on the facts of the case.
“We look forward to presenting the evidence in the case in a courtroom before a jury,” Hartwig said.
Outside of the courtroom, Hogue said, “I am pleased (the case) was brought to arraignment today. This means moving closer to trial.”
She noted Clements has been held without bond since March 21, 2011.
Hogue said she was glad and relieved the death penalty will not be pursued against Clements.
“It tells us this case is gong to get to trial sooner,” said Hogue, noting death penalty cases take longer to try given the requirements for capital cases.
Hogue said she expects the next step to be the development of a scheduling order that will set court dates in the case.
Russell Walker, a Perry attorney appointed by the court to represent Robert Sybert, exited the courtroom through a back entrance accessible only to court personnel. He could not be reached by telephone later for comment. Also in the courtroom were Wright and fellow detective Scott McSwain, who investigated the slaying.
Richard Grant Sybert is accused of slaying Joni Clements for the promise of $1,000 from the victim’s husband, a car and a date with a stripper in exchange for her death.
On May 31, 2011, a Houston County grand jury indicted all three men on 14 counts -- plus seven aggravating circumstances that allowed Hartwig to seek the death penalty if he chose.