Howland man pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter in shooting death at Niles bar
By Ed Runyan
Robin L. Caviness Jr. will serve 25 years in prison for shooting Clayton Bender to death June 11 behind Madden’s Bar and Grill on Youngstown Road in Niles.
Prosecutors say surveillance video showed that Caviness, 39, killed the 23-year-old Bender.
Caviness, who was with several friends, got into an altercation with Bender and two of his friends after they all left the tavern. They started fighting, then Caviness shot Bender as Bender sat in the back of a Cadillac.
“It was a bad combination of drinking and a person with a gun,” said Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor.
Caviness, of Elm Road in Howland, would have gone on trial Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on murder, three counts of felonious assault and a weapons charge. But he reached a plea agreement instead that called for him spending 25 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter instead of murder. He also pleaded guilty to the four other charges.
If Caviness had been convicted of the murder, he would have gotten a life prison sentence with parole eligibility after 18 years, Becker said. Caviness might not have gotten any additional time on the other charges.
Prosecutors agreed to the plea because Caviness had “zero felony record” and Bender and his friends had also struck Caviness before Caviness fired, Becker said.
Under those circumstances, a parole board might have released Caviness before he had served 25 years, Becker said. Caviness has seven children from age 9 to 18, his wife, Brandy Caviness, said.
After the plea hearing and sentencing, defense attorney Michael Cheselka of Cleveland said Caviness “had no recollection” of shooting Bender “because he got knocked out during the fight.”
Cheselka said Caviness “made a decision consciously or unconsciously that he will regret for the rest of his life.”
Cheselka and Brandy Caviness both blamed a friend with Caviness for starting the fight by making racial remarks to Bender and his two black friends. Caviness and his friends are white.
Becker said a black and white surveillance video from a nearby ice cream shop shows Caviness killing Bender, but it also shows him “woozy and wobbly” after being assaulted, so that could have made proving murder more difficult. The video has no sound, and it was dark outside.
Even if Caviness doesn’t remember shooting Bender, “that’s not a defense,” Becker said.
Roma Bender, uncle of Clayton Bender, who raised Clayton from the time he was small, said a storage tote in the back seat of the Cadillac appears to have stood in the way of Clayton running and getting away like his two friends.
“The way that man ran up on him, there was no way for him to get out,” he said.