PERRY -- James “Eddy” Clements was found guilty Friday of hiring two men to kill his wife.
After deliberating for about an hour and a half, jurors convicted Clements, 56, on all counts, which included conspiracy to commit murder and felony murder, along with a slew of other charges. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Joni Clements, 47, was shot to death Feb. 8, 2011, in the couple’s Westwood Drive home in Warner Robins. Richard Sybert, 30, testified that he shot her at the request of her husband. Sybert’s father, Robert Sybert, 54, is accused of being the getaway driver and providing the sawed-off .22 caliber rifle used in the slaying.
Both men made deals with the prosecution for lesser sentences in exchange for their testimony against Clements. Pleas from the Syberts are expected to be entered at a later date now that the trial is over.
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Clements showed no emotion as he was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies after jurors were excused and court recessed.
District Attorney George Hartwig received hugs from family and friends of Joni Clements who had filled the courtroom, as had friends and family of Eddy Clements and of the Syberts.
“I’m glad this trial is over, and I’m glad that justice has been served,” said Hartwig, who was visibly moved with emotion during closing arguments. Hartwig said after the trial that he and his family know the Clements family, having all worked together on Nutcracker of Middle Georgia productions in Macon in the past.
Tomi Roeske of Norfolk, Va., who traveled to Perry for the trial, was among those who hugged Hartwig.
“I truly believe justice has been done for my sister,” Roeske said. “I think the evidence speaks for itself, and there was never a question with the verdict.”
James “Trey” Clements, the 24-year-old son of Joni and Eddy Clements, said he suspected that his father was guilty and that his suspicions were “sadly” confirmed as he listened to testimony during the weeklong trial.
“It was hard hearing it,” he said.
His sister, Jorden Anne Clements, who has remained steadfast behind her father, was absent from the courtroom when the verdict was returned shortly before 5:45 p.m. She had been in the courtroom for much of the testimony, sitting in the rows behind her father.
Clements was represented by Laura D. and Franklin J. Hogue of Macon.
“Laura and I both feel like we gave Eddy Clements the best defense possible given the facts,” Franklin Hogue said. “We are disappointed, but we are not shocked by the verdict.”
Clements was convicted on the following counts: conspiracy to commit murder, malice murder, felony murder, burglary, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, kidnapping with bodily injury, possession of a firearm during a crime, use of a sawed-off rifle to commit murder and use of a firearm with a silencer to commit murder.
The least sentence Clements could receive is life in prison with the possibility of parole, which the Hogues hope to persuade the judge to grant to give Clements “some hope that he may one day be released on parole.”
Clements is expected to appeal the jury verdict, Hogue said.
Sherre and Tom Bussineau, Clements’ sister and brother-in-law who traveled from Charleston, S.C., for the trial, expressed appreciation for the Hogues and disappointment with jurors for listening, they said, to a convicted felon and his mentally challenged father in deciding the fate of Eddy Clements.
“I love my brother very much,” Sherre Bussineau said. “I will always support him.
“I feel sorry for the citizens of Houston County that they may one day be in the same predicament with a relative, and their relative’s fate be in the hands of the jurors who did not have intelligence enough to see through the lies.”
Ann Parker of Warner Robins, Clements’ mother who also faithfully attended the trial, said afterward, “I love my son. ... We’re all supporting Eddy.”
The sister of Robert Sybert declined to comment.
Jurors heard closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys Friday before beginning deliberations at 4:15 p.m.
The prosecution contended that Clements deliberately planned the murder of his wife and solicited the Syberts, giving them a key to the front door of the home and calling them when he knew his wife was home alone. Hartwig asked jurors to look at the evidence as a whole and not look at minor inconsistencies to put together the puzzle of who was behind the murder. Hartwig asked jurors to focus on testimony that was corroborated by other witnesses.
He noted that Richard Sybert confessed to the killing and told authorities about the involvement of his father and Clements long before he was charged in the slaying.
Sybert’s initial confession that linked Clements to the death of his wife was made to a Florida investigator when Sybert was arrested for an unrelated sexual offense there, Hartwig said. Sybert had fled to Florida after the murder.
The defense countered that a mentally challenged Robert Sybert misunderstood comments by Eddy Clements about his wife, including wishing she was dead, and Sybert took it upon himself to convince his son to kill her, expecting a monetary reward once Clements learned of her death.
Richard Sybert, a four-time convicted felon, jumped on the idea because he’d just gotten out prison and needed the money, and then fingered Clements to clear his father, make Clements the fall guy and himself dodge the death penalty, argued Franklin Hogue.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.