ITHACA, N.Y. — Camden Rundell, a 30-year-old Newfield man, died on Dec. 2 — neither the prosecution nor defense attorneys dispute that. But whether he was murdered and whether the right person is being accused of the crime was disputed during opening statements Monday morning.
Roy Clements Jr. is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and fourth-degree conspiracy. He’s accused of killing Rundell during a botched drug robbery last year. Five people were involved in the crime and Clements is the first to go to trial. The prosecution says Clements is the the person who directly caused the death of Rundell as the man was held down in the lawn, about 100 feet from his door.
Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama said, “Pinned down, unable to breathe — that’s how 30-year-old Camden Rundell spent the last moments of his all too short life. Cam was spread out on his back in his own yard staring up at the cold December night sky. Separating him from the rest of the universe, the rest of his life in fact, was the defendant Roy Clements.”
Lama said that while Clements held Rundell down, Rundell vomited and, still deprived of oxygen, died.
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Rundell’s ex-girlfriend Jamie Gerhart is accused of conspiring with Clements to steal Rundell’s marijuana plants from the basement of his Newfield home, located at 221 Burdge Hill Road.
Lama said that on the night of the crime, five people began scouring the streets to find Rundell.
“They were hunting for him, not to make sure that he would be away from his home for the robbery, they were hunting for him to make sure that he would be home,” Lama said.
She said the plan was not only to steal the marijuana plants, but to physically assault him, and she said it wasn’t a very well thought out plan. The people accused in the robbery, she said, left evidence in at least one dumpster, at the Newfield house and were seen on surveillance video purchasing items used during the crime. Lama said the people who planned the heist were counting on Rundell to not call the police at the risk of exposing his own marijuana growing operation.
“So as far as they were concerned they could do anything they wanted to Cam short of killing him,” she said, but that’s not what happened. “He died because Mr. Clements suffocated him, and we will prove that to you.”
She asked the jury to find Clements guilty of murder.
Is Clements falsely accused of murder?
Defense Attorney Lance Salisbury, “This case is actually about a man, a man who has been falsely accused – falsely accused of murder, falsely accused of other things.”
Salisbury said that Clements is not perfect and some parts of the narrative are shocking. But the facts of the case, he said, do not point to Clements as the person who killed Rundell.
“Do not let that fact — personal failings of some of these people — distract you from some of the issues here,” Salisbury said. “What you must not do is let the emotion of the trial, the fact that someone died, guide you.”
“There are problems with the evidence, there are problems with the witnesses stories, and that really is the story of this trial,” Salisbury said.
He asked jurors instead to comb through the evidence, which he said will reveal that there is only one witness in the case who says Clements committed the crime, which he says is not testimony that can be reliable.
“You’ll see at the end that there’s not evidence to convict Roy,” Salisbury said.
Featured photo illustration: Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama (left) and Attorney Lance Salisbury give opening statement in the Roy Clements murder trial. Photo by Jolene Almendarez