By Ed Runyan
To hear the prosecutors’ account of evidence in the murder trial of Richard A. Clark, which began Tuesday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, you’d wonder why a trial is necessary.
A friend of Dwayne Hickman, 49, of Williamsburg Street Northwest, visited Hickman’s house March 20, 2013, and saw Hickman with Clark, 40 — and Clark was wearing a distinctive brown sweater.
That same sweater was found in a trash bag at Hickman’s house March 25, when police discovered Hickman dead of 11 stab wounds.
The sweater had Hickman’s blood and Clark’s DNA on it, Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor, told jurors in opening statements Tuesday.
When police found Clark later March 25, unconscious in a bathtub at a house on Maryland Street where he was staying, suffering from a heroin overdose, they also found pants there with Hickman’s blood on them.
They found Hickman’s car, containing his wallet and cellphone, in the driveway at Maryland Street, Becker said. Four guns belonging to Hickman and Hickman’s relatives also were found in the area of the house where Clark was staying.
In addition to an aggravated murder charge that carries a possible penalty of life in prison without parole, Clark is charged with aggravated robbery.
“So why are we here?” Clark’s attorney, Matt Pentz of the Trumbull County Office of the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, said to the jury when it was his turn.
Mainly, he said, because some of the evidence Becker promised to deliver won’t be believable.
“They’re going to try to demonstrate that this circumstantial evidence — this case that has no eyewitnesses as to the actual alleged criminal offense — makes so much sense ... that there could be only one person that committed this murder.”
“As you might expect, Atty. [David] Rouzzo and myself have a different opinion of the state’s case,” he said.
For example, the defense will show that there are problems with the way the Warren Police Department gathered evidence in the case and problems with the believability of the DNA evidence.
Testimony also might raise questions about the time line prosecutors will give as to when Hickman died, between the last time he was seen alive — March 20 — and when he was found dead — March 25.
There’s a “huge amount of time when both of these events could have taken place,” Pentz said of the homicide and robbery.
Becker told jurors Hickman was in poor health at the time of his murder, having suffered a stroke in the past year and having been in a motorcycle wreck.
Becker seemed to be suggesting a motive for the homicide when he said Hickman’s friend, Crystal Davis, had given Hickman about $30 March 20 in view of Clark, but the $30 was missing from Hickman’s wallet March 25 in his car.
Clark had lived on and off with Hickman prior to Hickman’s death and also stayed at the Maryland Street residence, sometimes with a woman who rented there, Becker said.