Warner Robins man accused of murder-for-hire faces trial in Houston County

WARNER ROBINS -- James “Eddy” Clements, the accused mastermind in the alleged conspiracy behind the murder of his wife, is expected to go to trial this week in Houston County Superior Court.

Joni Clements, 47, a clinical nurse for the 78th Medical Operations Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, was shot multiple times in the upper torso with a .22-caliber sawed-off rifle Feb. 8, 2011, in the master bedroom of their then-home on Westwood Drive in Warner Robins.

The lead detective on the case has said she begged for her life.

Eddy Clements, 56, a sheet metal mechanic for the 559th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Robins, is accused of hiring Richard Grant Sybert, 30, of Warner Robins, to kill his wife in exchange for the promise of $1,000, a car and a date with a stripper.

Sybert’s father, Robert Sybert, 54, is accused of being the getaway driver and providing the gun used in the slaying. The father and son lived in a mobile home in Red Fox Run about two miles from the Clementses’ home. The father had cleaned the Clementses’ pool.

Syberts expected to testify

Both father and son have struck deals with the prosecution in exchange for their testimony.

The prosecution had sought the death penalty for Richard Sybert. But the state has agreed to recommend a sentence of prison without the possibility of parole in exchange for his testimony and guilty plea, court records show. Robert Sybert has agreed to testify in exchange for a sentence of 30 years on conspiracy to commit murder in a plea deal, according to the defense.

“Our job would be to expose the obvious bias inherent in the testimony for a significant reduced sentence,” said Laura D. Hogue, one of the attorneys representing Clements. “Richard Sybert is saving his life by testifying for the state -- literally.”

Hogue declined to discuss other aspects of the case such as defense strategy, witnesses or the state’s evidence.

“This is a very serious crime,” Hogue said. “This was a terrible tragedy what happened to Joni Clements and what it’s done to this family. All very sad.

“So this really is the final chapter in this family’s tragedy,” Hogue said. “We’re anxious to move forward with it and to close the book on it.”

Hogue said with the plea agreements already agreed upon, Clements’ trial is the final chapter.

Hogue’s husband, Franklin J. Hogue, is the other attorney representing Clements. The couple’s law office is in Macon. District Attorney George Hartwig and Daniel P. Bibler are the prosecutors are on the case. Hartwig, who is the lead prosecutor, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Family support

Eddy Clements’ mother, Ann Parker, of Warner Robins, and his daughter, Jorden Anne “Jordi” Clements, have attended court hearings pending trial. Both also have faithfully visited Eddy Clements in jail, often seen walking together from the parking lot to the jail for the visits. Jordi Clements also testified on behalf of her father at his bond hearing.

Tom and Sherrie Bussineau, Eddy Clements’ brother-in-law and sister, each gave a statement after the same hearing in support of Eddy Clements. The couple, who live out of state, are expected to be at the trial in Perry.

Friday, Bussineau released a statement on behalf of the family.

“The family of James “Eddy” Clements Jr. stands firmly behind him in his innocence,” the statement reads. “The last 18 months have been very difficult as we grieve the murder of Joni. Now, Richard Sybert, who has allegedly admitted to the murder of Joni, is apparently making false accusations against Eddy. This is a desperate attempt by Sybert to save himself from the death penalty. Eddy would not do anything to harm Joni. Eddy is innocent, and we anxiously await to have him back home with us.”

The prosecution’s case

Details of the alleged murder-for-hire based on the prosecution’s case have emerged during various court hearings. Here are some:

Richard Sybert confessed to killing Joni Clements and gave authorities details of the killing and those involved.

The sawed-off rifle used in the killing was found buried near the Red Fox Run mobile home the Syberts shared.

The key Richard Sybert told authorities he gave Joni Clements was found near her body and opened the front door. Twenty-two caliber shell casings were found nearby.

The night of the murder, a couple saw a tall, slender man running from near the Clements’ home and saw him jump into a champagne-colored car on Leverett Road. The car, which had one white panel that did not match the rest of the vehicle, belonged to Robert Sybert.

Richard Sybert told authorities he had gone to the Clements home to kill her Feb. 1 but found Jordi Clements inside. Sybert pulled the door shut and ran.

The physical description Jordi Clements gave police of the intruder Feb. 1 matched the description of the man the couple saw run and jump in the vehicle the night of the murder.

Robert Sybert told police he drove his son to the Clements home on both days -- dropping him off and picking him up again. Robert Sybert also told authorities Clements asked him to kill his wife “more times than he can remember” but that he could not do it.

Authorities have a record of cell phone calls between Robert Sybert and Eddy Clements on Feb. 1 and the day of the murder. Robert Sybert initially told police the calls were in reference to arranging for the family pool to be cleaned. Clements said the same.

A co-worker told police Clements asked him in 2006 if he knew anyone who could take care of his wife, which the co-worker believed meant to have her killed.

A drawing for a silencer was found in Eddy Clements’ toolbox at work. But a co-worker told police he asked Clements to make a silencer for him to kill rodents on his farm.

The trial before Judge Edward D. Lukemire is expected to take one week, with jury selection expected Monday. Hogue said she wasn’t sure whether jury selection would finish in time for opening statements from attorneys. The prosecution has indicated opening statements are expected and possibly witness testimony.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.