ITHACA, N.Y. — A woman who was charged with conspiracy in connection with the death of Newfield man Camden Rundell took the stand Wednesday and continued to be cross examined Thursday morning.
Melissa J. Minnick testified to purchasing items, including ski masks, dog food and sleeping pills, that were ultimately used in the fatal robbery of Rundell last December. Minnick was one of five people charged in connection with Rundell’s death. In August, Minnick pleaded guilty to fourth-degree conspiracy.
On Dec. 2, 2016, 30-year-old Rundell was found dead on the lawn of his Newfield home. Though police initially responded to the incident as a cardiac arrest, they quickly began investigating his death as a homicide. Roy Clements Jr. is on trial this week facing charges of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and fourth-degree conspiracy. Two other people have also been charged with murder — Jamie Gerhart, Colleen McColgin — but have not gone to trial or reached a plead deal.
Before Minnick testified Wednesday, forensic pathologist Dr. James Terzian took the stand and answered questions about Rundell’s death.
Terzian said he found fresh bruises and cuts on Rundell, including bruising above the left knee, a small scrape on the right side of his neck, bruising in the area of his left armpit. Rundell had also vomited and had bloodshot eyes, Terzian said.
Terzian said “It’s complicated, but basically (Rundell) died of asphyxiation due to smothering.”
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia also questioned Terzian about Rundell’s toxicology report. Terzian said Rundell had alcohol, cocaine and marijuana in his system the day he died. However, he said he was not at a level of overdose for any of the substances.
When cross-examined by defense attorney Lance Salisbury, he was asked if markings on the body could be a sign that the body had been flipped. Terzian said, “It could be.”
When Minnick took the stand, she testified that in connection with the plea deal she took for fourth-degree conspiracy, she would provide truthful testimony for the trial in exchange for probation being recommended as a sentence. Without the deal, she was facing up to four years in prison.
Minnick said she had been dating Clements for about 10 months before the incident. She testified that Clements was sick in late November 2016 and had been in and out of the hospital for intestinal issues.
Shortly before the homicide, Minnick said she overheard Clements talking about being mad at “some drug addicts” and wanted to beat them up. She said she did not hear anything about robbing at that point.
At about 10 p.m. Dec. 1, Minnick said she was sleeping when she got a text or call from Clements asking if she wanted to go for a ride. She went and said they smoked marijuana on the way “somewhere out in the country.” When they got to a friend’s house, shes said they switched cars. Then they headed back to Ithaca.
On the way back, Clements asked her if she would buy three ski masks, dog food and sleeping pills.
At first he told her the ski masks were for shoveling at work, she said, but then he started talking about a “drug addict who’d been threatening his mom and him and his brothers were going to to find the guy and beat him up.”
Though she said she didn’t agree at first, she did end up buying the items from Wal-Mart and paid with cash.
After that, she got a text message from Clements with a picture of Rundell to show her “the meth addict who was harassing his mom.” Then she met up with Clements at Tops in Ithaca and gave him the items. She asked if they were going to go home now.
Minnick said Clements was saying his brothers didn’t show up and he was going to go try to find Rundell. He said his brother was supposed to go to The Haunt to see if Rundell was there, but he did show up, so he asked Minnick if she would go, she said.
Minnick did go to The Haunt and said she sat in the parking lot for about 30 to 40 minutes until Clements texted asking if she had gone in yet. She went in, didn’t see Rundell, and told Clements that. She said he texted, “OK baby you can leave.”
After that, Minnick said she went home and slept.
Rundell was killed in the early morning of Dec. 2. Police responded to Rundell’s house on Burdge Hill Road in Newfield just after 5 a.m.
Minnick said she didn’t see Clements again until Friday night. She said he came back pretty late. Minnick said she asked him if “what was in the paper – if that had anything to do with the night before.”
Minnick said he responded “Shit went left” and said he wasn’t feeling good again and hadn’t had any sleep, so they went to sleep.
Over the weekend, Clements continued working. He worked several jobs, Minnick said, including working security at frat houses, as a DJ, at Family and Children’s Services and others. She said she would sometimes help him with his DJ equipment since he had been sick and it was difficult for him to carry the equipment.
Clements was charged in connection with the death of Rundell on Dec. 4, and Minnick was charged with conspiracy shortly after.
During cross examination, Salisbury pressed Minnick more about the plea deal she accepted.
He asked her if she would do anything to protect and be with her two teenage daughters and Minnick said she would. He also asked her about the details of her cooperation agreement with prosecutors.
He asked, “So if you testify right here, then you don’t go to prison right?”
Minnick clarified that should could still lose the plea deal if she lies in court or doesn’t show up. The deal is not dependent on the outcome of the trial. She said she was being truthful with her testimony, though.
Salisbury, however, questioned her credibility.
For instance, he played a video clip where Minnick is being questioned by investigators. In the video, Minnick says,”He (Clements) never said robbery…He said set them straight.”
The statement is in direct contrast to her previous testimony in court when she says Clements told her about the robbery.
Salisbury also pointed out that she now says that she lied to police multiple other times — neglecting to say that she went to The Haunt to look for Rundell and not telling officers that she made the purchases at Wal-Mart. She also never mentions anything about the supposed threats against Clements’ family.
“I was lying to them about the part about his family. I didn’t want the police to drag in his mom and his brothers because I knew at that point that (the threats) wasn’t true,” she said. She also said that police hadn’t arrested Clements for the crime and she knew he had a key to her house.
Salisbury asked, “You were lying to protect yourself, correct?”
“Yes,” Minnick said.
He asked if it was possible that she inferred that Clements was involved in Rundell’s death from police officers and an Ithaca Voice article about the crime. She said she first heard about Rundell’s death in the news and Clements never said anything about being involved in Rundell’s death.
The trial against Clements continues Thursday with police officers taking the stand.
Featured image: Jolene Almendarez/Ithaca Voice