ITHACA, N.Y. — After nearly a year of jail time and court proceedings, Roy Clements Jr. walked out of the Tompkins County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon as a free man.
Just after noon, Clements Jr. was found not guilty of felony second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and fourth-degree conspiracy. He was accused of killing 30-year-old Camden Rundell on Dec. 2 and taken into custody shortly afterward.
The trial lasted nearly three weeks and jurors spent more than a day indicating to the court that they were preliminarily deadlocked on the charges and were questioning the definition of intent. They were not permitted to consider lesser charges, such as manslaughter.
Upon leaving the courthouse, Clements said, “I’m feeling that I was blessed with justice.”
Available only for a passing comment, he said his prayers were with God that he would rightfully be found not guilty of the charges against him.
Clements was represented by attorneys Lance Salisbury and Jerome Mayersak.
“We’re, of course, happy with the results. We’re grateful to the jury. This is a jury that worked — spent weeks listening to the evidence — and it was clear watching them that they worked very hard in going through the evidence and reaching a verdict,” Salisbury said. “It’s what you want a jury to do: be thoughtful, work through all the evidence, and this is the system working as it should be, regardless of the verdict.”
Salisbury said, “It’s always sad when somebody dies before their time. There are questions about how he died. I think each side would probably have different ideas about what happened. At the end of the day…you’re just left with the facts. Someone died before they probably should have.”
Rundell’s mother, who sat through the whole trial, sometimes crying and often writing, decline to comment about the verdict at this time.
Prosecutors called witnesses to the stand who testified that Clements, along with four other people, conspired to steal marijuana plants from the basement of Rundell’s home where he grew them as part of an illegal drug business. Their witnesses claim Clements laid on Rundell to restrain him in the yard while the robbery happened inside the home, causing Rundell to die of mechanical asphyxiation. A medical examiner directly involved in the case testified to Rundell’s cause and manner of death.
Clements took the stand and said neither of those claims were true. He said him and several people took the plants as part of a pre-arranged drug deal. Rundell, he said, was still alive when he left the home. Dr. Robert Stoppacher, Onondaga County’s chief medical examiner, also took the stand for the defense, saying it was possible that Rundell died of a cocaine induced heart attack. Rundell had used cocaine, alcohol and marijuana the night he died.
“The prosecution has their story of what occurred night. We have our own equally plausible theory of what occurred that night,” defense attorney Lance Salisbury said during summations last Tuesday. “But for this case, in the end to make our decision, the foundation that you have to look at is the reliability and the believeability of Leah Armstrong. She’s the foundation of the prosecution’s case. If her testimony to you is unreliable and untrustworthy and unbelievable, then the rest of her case doesn’t stand.”
Armstrong, Rundell’s girlfriend who was at the home the night he died, has said that she saw a large black man in a gray sweatsuit — a description that fits what Clements was wearing Dec. 2. — on top of Rundell while she says the house was robbed.
The defense claims Armstrong’s testimony is flawed and didn’t directly point to Clements as causing Rundell’s death.
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia, however, said that to not believe Armstrong would mean ignoring how accurate her descriptions of the night proved to be.
“Specifically, the defense would like you to believe that this is a one-witness-case. That it essentially all comes down to Leah Armstrong. As if you have not sat here for the last two weeks and heard 30 other witnesses, as if you have not seen surveillance video, as if you have not seen dozens and dozens of text messages, as if you have not seen the physical evidence, as if you have not seen the ski masks,” Bonavia said. “I would suggest to you that Leah Armstrong, when she testified to you, she told you the good and bad.”
Bonavia pointed out that Armstrong was honest about details that did not reflect positively on herself, such as her drug use and the fact that she said she was scared to immediately call the police because she was at a drug house. But he pointed out that details she described from Dec. 2, including the clothes multiple people were seen wearing on surveillance camera and descriptions about other physical evidence, were all correct.
“But I would suggest to you that if nothing else, she told you the truth,” Bonavia said.
Two other people — Jamie Gerhart and Colleen McColgin — are still facing murder charges for their alleged involvement in the crime but have not gone to trial or reached a plea deal.
Dennis Lampila, who was also involved in the crime and initially charged with murder, pleaded guilty to felony first-degree robbery in October in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution and law enforcement.
Melissa Minnick, who had a lesser role in the crime, pleaded guilty to felony fourth-degree conspiracy in August and was sentenced Wednesday morning to four years of probation. She also worked with prosecutors and law enforcement officials as part of her plea deal and was called to the stand.
This story has been updated with additional information since being published.