Reduced charges muddle candle case
YOUNGSTOWN — Elizabeth Clausen, 34, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to assault and domestic violence for hitting her husband, Eric Clausen Jr., 35, in the head with a thick candle two days before he died, June 10, 2018.
Prosecutors will recommend she get six months in the Mahoning County jail.
Clausen and her husband lived on Innwood Drive in Austintown at the time. Eric Clausen was an Air Force veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan. Prosecutors pursued charges against Elizabeth Clausen after interviewing her and a second woman. While being interviewed by police, she gave several different versions of what had happened, police said.
Police learned of the second woman from another person in the case, and interviewed her two years after Eric Clausen died. That woman said Elizabeth Clausen admitted to hitting her husband in the head with a thick candle.
A coroner’s report, however, showed that Eric Clausen died from pneumonia — and not from a head injury, prosecutors said.
A Mahoning County grand jury indicted Elizabeth Clausen on felonious assault in 2020 after interviewing her and the other woman, Assistant Prosecutor Michael Rich said Tuesday.
During Tuesday’s plea hearing, Rich answered many questions from Judge R. Scott Krichbaum on the reasons Rich accepted a plea agreement that reduced Elizabeth Clausen’s felonious assault charge to misdemeanor assault.
“I know it was a long way for us to go,” Rich said of the reduction. But based on the evidence, “We believe securing a conviction, albeit a misdemeanor, would do justice in this case.”
He noted that Eric Clausen’s family does not object to reducing the charge, and that prosecutors will recommend at Elizabeth Clausen’s 10 a.m. May 18 sentencing that she get six months in jail.
“That sentence made it more palatable to the state as well as the family to make this amendment to a misdemeanor,” Rich said.
The judge also asked about testimony that would have come up at a trial scheduled for next week indicating that Eric Clausen told paramedics that his head injury came from him falling onto a candle.
Rich agreed that testimony would probably be “compelling.” He added, “The state’s entire case essentially hinges on” the testimony of the woman who said Elizabeth Clausen admitted to hitting her husband with the candle. He noted that police found a broken candle at the home.
The witness did not come forward on her own, however, Rich said. Austintown police “heard about her through another person” then spoke with her, Rich said.
Clausen and her attorney, Ron Yarwood, stood before the judge, listening as the judge quizzed Rich regarding the case.
Yarwood later said he believes the plea agreement is a “fair resolution given what I think are some serious problems with (the prosecution) of this case.”
At the end of the hearing, Krichbaum allowed Clausen, who now lives in Streetsboro, to remain free on $50,000 bond until her sentencing.