Husband, shooter get life in Warner Robins murder-for-hire; getaway driver sentenced to 30 years

PERRY -- James “Eddy” Clements was sentenced Wednesday in Houston County Superior Court to life in prison without the possibility of parole for planning and conspiring with two men to kill his wife.

Superior Court Judge Edward D. Lukemire also sentenced Clements, 56, who was convicted Friday of malice murder, conspiracy to commit murder and related charges, to an additional five years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

His co-conspirators, Robert Sybert, 54, and son Richard Sybert, 30, also were sentenced for their roles in the February 2011 death of 47-year-old Joni Clements. The pair testified against Eddy Clements as part of their plea deals with the prosecution.

Richard Sybert, who confessed to shooting Joni Clements, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder plus five years for possession of a sawed-off rifle during the commission of a crime.

Robert Sybert, the getaway driver, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on a reduced charge of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of a sawed-off rifle during the commission of a crime.

Burt Baker, an attorney for the Georgia Capital Defender Office who helped represent Richard Sybert, told the judge Richard Sybert regretted his actions.

“He has asked me to express his heartfelt regrets at the events that have taken place,” Baker said.

District Attorney George Hartwig said he was satisfied all three people who were responsible for the murder of Joni Clements were convicted. The sentence could prove to be a life sentence for all three due to the age of Robert Sybert. Hartwig estimated after the hearing that Sybert would likely turn 75 before he would be eligible for parole.

Hartwig said his prayers are with the adult children of Joni and Eddy Clements and their family members.

“This is something they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their lives,” Hartwig said.

Laura D. Hogue, one of the Macon attorneys representing Clements, said after the hearing, “This a sad day for everyone. But we need to move to the next chapter, which is preparing for the appeal. We will appeal both the conviction and the sentence.”

Hogue had challenged whether the prosecution could seek a life sentence without parole based on recent changes in the law, but the judge found the sentence was appropriate based on case law.

Hogue asked the judge to consider the totality of Clements’ life. She noted he had no prior criminal offenses. Hogue also had presented the judge before the hearing with numerous character reference letters from family and friends of Eddy Clements.

Hogue pleaded for a “ray of hope” for the possibility of parole, the only other sentencing option available based on state law.

But Hartwig argued against offering hope to Clements when he offered none to his wife. Hartwig told the judge Joni Clements must have realized she had no hope of surviving as she was dying on the floor of her master bedroom in the couple’s Westwood Drive Home in Warner Robins. The home has since changed ownership.

“He did not give his wife that glimmer of hope,” Hartwig told the judge. “He doesn’t deserve it either.”

Also, a victim’s advocate read aloud heartfelt letters to the judge from Joni Clements’ two sisters seeking life in prison without parole for Clements, so he could not hurt their families again.

The judge said he looked at everything in balance when considering sentencing for Clements, adding he wasn’t sure “how you balance stopping a human heart.”

Clements’ sister, Sherre Bussineau of Charleston, S.C., remained steadfast behind her brother. She said she’s convinced he’s innocent and was at a loss to put into words what she’s having trouble getting her mind around: his conviction and life sentence.

“I’ll always support my brother and will always be here for him,” Bussineau said with an arm locked with that of her mother, Ann Parker. Both faithfully sat behind Clements throughout the weeklong trial and the sentencing hearing.

She noted that if her brother is freed upon appeal, he’ll always have a place to live with her.

Parker, of Warner Robins, said, “I love my son, and I believe in his innocence, and I will support him until the day I die.”

Karen Allen, who had dinner plans with Joni Clements the night of the slaying, also attended the trial and sentencing.

“She’s at peace,” Allen said of Joni Clements. “We’re at peace, and they’re going away for the rest of their lives, and that’s good enough.”

Family members of the Syberts also were in the courtroom. A sister of Robert Sybert declined to comment.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.