Admitted gunman of deceased's husband: 'He wanted her shot'

PERRY -- Richard Sybert testified Thursday that James “Eddy” Clements told him he did not want his wife strangled or stabbed.

“He wanted her shot,” Sybert, 30, said in Houston County Superior Court at Clements’ murder trial. “It couldn’t be no other way because he wanted to make sure it was done.”

Clements, 56, is accused of hiring Sybert to kill his wife, Joni Clements, 47. She was shot to death Feb. 8, 2011, at the couple’s Westwood Drive home in Warner Robins. Sybert’s father, Robert Sybert, 54, is accused of being the getaway driver and providing the gun used in the slaying.

Richard Sybert took jurors through a chilling account of Clements’ planning of the murder, Sybert’s own confession to the slaying and his father’s involvement in the crime.

The account included meetings among the three men at Flash Foods and Huddle House, the exchanging of the Clementses’ front door key, a trip to the home to meet the family dogs and the encounter between Sybert and Joni Clements inside her home.

She met him coming down the stairs as he opened the door with the key, Sybert testified. To disarm her, he told her that her husband asked him to give her the key. He closed the door and eased the sawed-off rifle out his pants pocket.

She asked him not to shoot her. She offered him money and the keys to her car, and she cooperated with him as he took her upstairs at gunpoint. She kept asking him not to shoot her, and when he couldn’t take her asking one more time: “I closed my eyes, and I shot her,” Sybert said.

But under cross-examination by the defense, numerous inconsistencies came to light.

Among them was the motive for the shooting. Sybert testified that Eddy Clements promised him $1,000, a car and a date with a stripper. He also told jurors he wanted to earn the respect of his father and keep his word.

But Sybert told a Florida detective that Clements had threatened to kill his brother, Jonathan Sybert, if he did not murder Clements’ wife. (After the murder, Sybert was arrested in Florida on unrelated charges.)

When defense attorney Franklin J. Hogue questioned that on the witness stand, Sybert testified not only had Clements threatened to kill his brother, but Sybert’s father also made the same threat.

Another inconsistency was his statement to authorities that Clements gave Sybert the silencer used on his father’s snake gun, which was identified as the murder weapon. But Sybert testified he made the silencer from a PVC pipe he fitted on the gun with black electrical tape.

Also, Sybert told Warner Robins police detective Mark Wright that he did as his father instructed in connection to the murder but testified he followed Clements’ instructions.

Sybert rejected Hogue’s assertion that his testimony was to save his own skin -- having agreed to testify against Clements in exchange for the death penalty to come off the table and a sentence recommendation of life without the possibility of parole.

Sybert said the reason he, his father and Clements are in court is because he chose to confess while they lied.

“I’m a man. That’s a coward right there,” Sybert said, pointing with shackled hands at Clements.

Other testimony

Earlier Thursday, jurors heard a series of phone calls and messages left for a woman referred to as “Amber.” In them, Eddy Clements tells her, “I love you,” and, “Let me know when you can move down. I’m ready to move in.”

Testimony identified the woman as Sally Riddle Smith, who lived out-of-state and pretended to be underwear model. She and Clements never met.

The calls were made the month after Joni Clements was murdered.

Jurors also heard a call recorded during a 30-day wiretap of Clements in which Wright confronts him about another call from Jonathan Sybert. Jonathan Sybert had told Clements he suspected his father and brother were involved in the murder.

On the call, Wright asks Clements why he did not tell him about the conversation. Clements responds that he told Jonathan Sybert to call Wright directly.

Jonathan Sybert testified Wednesday that Clements told him not to tell anyone about his suspicions, and jurors heard a recorded call of Clements telling Sybert the same thing.

The call between Wright and Clements was introduced over the repeated objections of defense attorneys, who unsuccessfully called for a mistrial.

Also Thursday, Hogue questioned Robert Sybert about his Wednesday testimony. Hogue asked Robert Sybert that if it were true his only involvement was to drop off his son and then get some marijuana, why had he entered an agreement to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder?

“You tell me a better way of getting this deal, and I will listen -- considering what my son did,” Sybert told Hogue.

When Robert Sybert was asked if when he tells the truth, he sometimes forgets, misunderstands or flat out lies about what the truth is, Sybert said, “I reckon.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.