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Murder in the Suburbs: What the man sentenced to life for the brutal Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub murders says about the case today

10 years ago, Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were brutally murdered in her parents' suburban home. Sam Williams was linked to the site by DNA from a single cigarette.

HOLLAND, Ohio — Sam Williams describes Sept. 22, 2011, as a "mope-around day."

He slept in late, invited some friends over to play video games and ran out of cigarettes. Cigarettes were always in short supply for the three-pack-a-day smoker.

His brother agreed to buy him a pack if Williams agreed to go to the store with him.

As Williams crossed the street to get into his car, his world exploded.

"All these marked cars came rolling up. The U.S. Marshals and the detectives had pulled their guns on me and laid me down to arrest me," he says.

"I had a warrant for one of my domestic violence cases that I was on probation for. I'm like, 'I've got 30 days in jail. I don't want to do the probation,'" he says. "As the U.S. Marshal was putting handcuffs on me, I said, 'You really come and get people for misdemeanor domestic violence cases?'"

Credit: WTOL 11
Sam Williams enters court during his trial for the 2011 murders of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub.

Later at the sheriff's department, he complained to Detective Jeff Kozak about the rough treatment: "If you would have sent me something in the mail, I would have come down. You didn't have to humiliate me like that."

At that point, he knew it was bigger than the misdemeanor warrant. He shifted his thinking to defending himself against a promoting prostitution case that he was involved in with his girlfriend.

Eleven minutes into his interview with detectives, they dropped pictures of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub on the table in front of Williams. The detectives were not interested in domestic violence, drugs, or prostitution. But they were very interested in what happened on the night of Jan. 30, 2011 inside a Holland home on Longacre Avenue.

What Williams did not know was that detectives had recently received a hit on a cigarette found at a double homicide inside the home of Jeff and Mary Beth Straub. DNA on that cigarette was from Williams and close friend Cameo Pettaway.

Credit: Ohio BCI
A single cigarette butt with the DNA of Sam Williams and Cameo Pettaway was found in the house where Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered.

A single cigarette butt with the DNA of Sam Williams and Cameo Pettaway was found in the house where Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered.

READ | OHIO BUREAU OF CRIMINAL IDENTIFICATION AND INVESTIGATION LAB REPORTS

The cigarette was found near the service door leading into the garage from the home. In the nearby kitchen were the bodies of 21-year-old Johnny Clarke and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Lisa Straub. Clarke's hands and feet were bound by duct tape. Duct tape was wrapped around his neck, securing a plastic bag. His sweatshirt was pulled up and a wallet was found on his stomach. Straub's hands were bound by tape, and a bag was also secured over her head with tape.

By the time police arrived, the bags had been ripped open by Johnny's father, John, who had kicked in the front door and found the couple.

Deputy Frank Reidy was the first officer who responded to the scene, and he noticed the cigarette in the corner. He commented that it was odd that there was no smell of smoke in the home.

During an hour-long interview on Sept. 22, Williams told detectives six times that he didn't want to talk. It is the only time that Williams has told his story to the media. At one point, Kozak roared at him: "Tell me why your DNA is at my crime scene."

Arms crossed, Williams refused to talk and asked for his attorney.

WATCH | SAM WILLIAMS INTERROGATION

From Marion Correctional Institute, Williams talked to 11 Investigates for nearly an hour, describing many events of that day.

"I have been incarcerated before, and I know murder cases is a very serious crime. I didn't know if they were using (the DNA) as a scare tactic to get me to talk. But I knew if I talked to my attorney, I'd find out more accurate information."

When his case eventually went to trial in July of the following year, the statements to detectives were suppressed because of a violation of Williams' Miranda Rights. The most damning statement was his denial that he had never been in the home. It was a question that his defense attorneys struggled with at his trial.

Ultimately he was convicted of aggravated murder, burglary and kidnapping. John Thebes and Jane Roman were able to successfully convince the jury not to sentence him to death. But he was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.

"Sam got a fair trial. One thing that could not be explained adequately is how do you explain Sam Williams how your DNA on a cigarette butt got inside a garage in a home that you had never been to? That was an impossibly large hurdle to overcome," attorney John Thebes says.

Sam Williams learned his sentence for the homicides of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub - life in prison, with no chance of parole.

Credit: WTOL 11
Sam Williams learned his sentence for the homicides of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub - life in prison, with no chance of parole.

THE JAILHOUSE CALLS

Almost immediately after getting out of his interview with detectives, Williams began making calls from the county jail. Some of those calls were instrumental in convicting him. But the jury was provided pieces of the calls, out of context of the entire conversation. 11 Investigates obtained a transcript of the entire conversations.

The first call was made to his nephew Chris at 8:45 p.m. At one point Williams tells him: "I f***** up. I'm going to be in here for a long time."

Prosecutors explained to the jury that it was an admission of guilt. In his prison interview with WTOL 11, he says he was angry that he had significant amounts of drugs in his home and he was worried it would be stolen before it could be sold to be used to hire an attorney.

During the conversation with his nephew, Sam explains how he should climb a pole, get on his back roof, and push in the air conditioner to get into the house and get the drugs.

In a later call with a friend by the name of "Loony," Williams tells him: "I just told my little nephew where everything is at. ....Help him get rid of it, dude. I need the money. I need a lawyer."

The most incriminating phone call was made on April 12, 2012, to Stephen Pettaway, the brother of Cameo.

Sam tells him, "that was supposed to be me and you, but you know little bro had to step to take your spot, man."

Stephen responds, "you know he didn't do it right like I would have did it right."

"No, but he did it good enough to make something happen."

Again, the prosecutors pounced on the call, telling the jury that they were talking about the night of the murder and how Cameo had to go because his brother was in jail. And that Cameo didn't do it right, possibly by leaving behind the cigarette.

A single cigarette butt with the DNA of Sam Williams and Cameo Pettaway was found in the house where Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered.

Williams says that Stephen was instrumental in setting up the prostitution business and that he was talking about a prostitution trip he took Cameo on to Pittsburgh because Stephen was in jail.

"When I say he wasn't doing it right but good enough, in my eyes he wasn't doing prostitution the way Stephen had in the past," Williams tells 11 Investigates. "But he was making money, and when he was making it, he was spending it on the wrong things."

Later in the call to Stephen, Williams makes a comment that "we've been some places, man."

It does not prove his innocence, but it was clear that the jury was fed only pieces of conversations to strengthen their case against Williams. According to Thebes, those calls were crucial in convicting Williams.

THE JAILHOUSE SNITCH

Cameo Pettaway was tried in a separate courtroom from Williams. However, his case was dismissed by Judge James Bates, saying the prosecutors only presented the cigarette as evidence against Pettaway. He stated that the cigarette could have been dropped by anyone. The state did not have incriminating jailhouse calls or testimony from a snitch.

In Williams' case, testimony from Eric Yingling likely was the deciding factor.

Yingling was in the county jail in December 2011, for failing to pay child support. He told the jury that he befriended Williams and that during a late-night conversation, Williams said he was tormented by the sound of the crinkling bag as Lisa Straub tried to breathe. He named Williams, Pettaway, and another East Side man, Eric Taylor, as the killers.

There were several problems with Yingling's testimony, including the inclusion of Taylor, who was never considered a strong suspect by police and was not charged. In addition, all the details that Yingling told the public were publicly known when he talked to police. He freely admitted that he was looking for a deal and that his wife looked up many of the details. In addition, 11 Investigates has learned that Yingling was paid thousands of dollars after he testified against Williams.

But in an hourlong conversation and subsequent text messages, Yingling stood by his story.

"I couldn't get Williams to shut up. He was pouring it out. It was like I was a priest and he was in a confessional," he says.

Yingling says that detectives initially did not believe his story about Williams - until, he says, he casually mentioned that Williams told him about finding Iraqi dinars in the home.

The Straub residence on Longacre Lane in Holland is about 20 miles - a 30-minute drive - from the Bottom Line Bar on Starr Avenue, where Sam Williams says he was on the night Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed.

Credit: WTOL 11
Sam Williams says he was able to look at his phone records and, he says, family and friends were able to look back at social media and determine that he was at the Bottom Line Bar on Navarre Avenue on the East Side the night Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed.
Credit: WTOL 11
The Straub residence on Longacre Lane in Holland is about 20 miles - a 30-minute drive - from the Bottom Line Bar on Starr Avenue, where Sam Williams says he was on the night Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed.

"Everyone got quiet at that point. The air in the room changed," he says, explaining that detectives told him that no one knew about dinars found in the master bedroom, except for the killers, the Straubs, and police.

That information is not true. The dinars were listed on a search warrant. The contents of that warrant were released to the media. Within a week of the murder, they were being discussed in multiple media outlets, including on CNN.

The prosecutors emphasized in Williams' trial that no one knew about that information. At one point, Kozak was asked if anyone else knew and he replied that they did not. It's impossible to know whether he knew of the media coverage, but the information was known when Yingling went to police.

Sam Williams is serving a life sentence without parole for the murders of Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub.

Williams denies ever having any type of in-depth conversation with Yingling in jail.

"Had I been a jury member and had I not known the truth, I too probably would have believed Eric Yingling," he says. "That's how convincing he came across. He is a master manipulator."

THE ALIBI THAT NEVER WAS

When Williams was arrested on Sept. 22, he could not tell police where he was on the night of Jan. 30.

"I didn't really know where I was. How much time had elapsed? Eight months? I lived in the streets, so really I'd bounce from this house to that house. At that moment, I couldn't tell where I was," he says.

Williams says he was able to look at his phone records and, he says, family and friends were able to look back at social media and determine that he was at the Bottom Line Bar on Navarre Avenue on the East Side.

"I know I was at the Bottom Line Bar, watching the Pro Bowl with a few other people. One of the people was Destiny Madrid, the girl who got arrested in my case. My cousin Larry Gillhouse was there and Eddie Flores was there."

"I know I was at the Bottom Line Bar, watching the Pro Bowl with a few other people. One of the people was Destiny Madrid, the girl who got arrested in my case. My cousin Larry Gillhouse was there and Eddie Flores was there," Sam Williams said of his whereabouts the night that Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered.

Credit: WTOL 11
"I know I was at the Bottom Line Bar, watching the Pro Bowl with a few other people. One of the people was Destiny Madrid, the girl who got arrested in my case. My cousin Larry Gillhouse was there and Eddie Flores was there," Sam Williams said of his whereabouts the night that Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered.

In a conversation with 11 Investigates, Flores says that he was at work until later in the evening, but that he was texting with Gillhouse, who says that Sam and his son were at a birthday party for his daughter. Gillhouse confirmed that to detectives when he was interviewed on Oct. 28, 2011, saying that Sam was the only one who stayed to help clean up.

Flores says that in their texting conversation, Gillhouse told him that Sam and he were heading up to the bar and that he should meet them up there.

He says that when he got off work, he headed to his cousin's house to finish watching the Pro Bowl, then they went to the bar. He remembers the date because his cousin, Nikk, turned 21 at midnight and the doorman agreed to let him in a little early.

A records search confirmed that the cousin turned 21 on Jan. 31. The Pro Bowl also took place at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 and ended about 10:45 p.m.

"Sam was there, hanging out with us, chit-chatting. I’ve known Sam since he was a little kid. We closed it down. We were just all hanging out," he says, adding that he has no reason to lie. "If he did that, he’s gotta rot for it. It is what it is. I’ve known him forever, but if he did that, it was disgusting, and he deserves what he gets."

Sam Williams says he was able to look at his phone records and, he says, family and friends were able to look back at social media and determine that he was at the Bottom Line Bar on Starr Avenue on the east Side the night Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed.

Based on a conversation between Tiffany Williams and Johnny Clarke, police believe that Clarke and Straub were attacked at 10:41 p.m. A call between Williams and Madrid at 10:27 p.m. pinged off a cell phone tower near the Bottom Line Bar.

It was at that point that Williams says he was calling Madrid to see when she would get to the bar. In an Oct. 11, 2011, interview with detectives, Madrid repeatedly tells police that she was with Sam that night and that they later went to the Bedford Inn.

At one point, retired Toledo Detective Tom Ross, who was working for the prosecutor's office shushes her. At another point in the interview, Kozak tells her that she is not on bar's video. She appears stunned and says, "we have to be. We were right by the front door."

WATCH | DESTINY MADRID INTERROGATION

In his interview with Gillhouse, Kozak acknowledges that he had no video from the bar, that he was told by the bar owner that there was none from that night. Gillhouse tells Kozak that he didn't remember hanging out that night after the birthday party, but he says he remembers hanging out at a different time for someone's 21st birthday. But that was likely Nikk's birthday on Jan. 31.

Williams says that the group stayed at Bottom Line until after 1, then went to a different bar for last call. He said that he and Gillhouse were briefly separated. But he said he called him to figure out where they could go for an early morning meal. Phone records show he called Gillhouse at 2:51 a.m., 3:01 and 3:04 for a total of nearly five minutes.

He also placed six calls to Cameo Pettaway between 2:38 and 3:27 a.m. Prosecutors claim that this was more evidence that the men were involved in the crime and Sam was calling to solidify their story. The calls were unanswered.

Credit: Lucas Co. jail
Cameo D. Pettaway

Williams explains that he was cheating on his current girlfriend with Madrid and trusted Pettaway to be discreet.

"I was looking for a place to have relations with this woman. I was looking for a place, other than a hotel, to go," Williams says. "I knew that he would not tell."

Williams says that there are texts and Facebook posts that would prove his story. 11 Investigates has tried multiple times to have Facebook provide the posts but has not been successful. The police have not returned two phones of Williams', though his family has made multiple attempts to get them back. Police did receive a court order to obtain his text messages, but there has been no explanation why they were not used in the trial.

LIFE WITH NO CHANCE OF PAROLE

Multiple concerns about Williams' conviction were presented to Capt. Matt Luettke by 11 Investigates.

"The evidence, the case that was made, the evidence collected, it speaks for itself," Luettke says.

Credit: WTOL 11
Capt. Matt Luettke says he's comfortable with the conviction, saying the evidence speaks for itself in the case of Sam Williams.

Despite the statement from Thebes about Williams receiving a fair trial, it still comes down to the cigarette containing the DNA of Williams and Pettaway. The men, who call each other brother, often shared cigarettes, so it is not surprising that a cigarette had their DNA on it.

"I have no explanation for how it got there. I know that I did not place it there," Williams says. "But I do believe that I was set up. I believe that whoever done that placed the cigarette there to throw investigators off. I believe with the past record that I had, and the promoting prostitution charge I had, that Detective Kozak arrested me on the case."

WATCH | SAM WILLIAMS' FIRST INTERVIEW REGARDING THE CLARKE-STRAUB CASE

If Williams was set up, he was a ripe target. He has been charged three times for domestic violence. In 2006, he was found guilty of threatening to kill the victim. In 2007, he was involved in a fight and charged with felonious assault after punching a man. In 2010, he was found guilty of pushing his ex-wife to the ground and biting her wrist. And in 2011, before his arrest for murder, he was found guilty of going to his ex-wife's, kicking in the door and threatening to send the women in his car in to beat her up.

In his interview with WTOL 11, he admits to being a drug dealer, a pimp, but he says he is not a killer.

"I had no involvement in this case, and I pray that the families get justice for their family members, and I pray that one day the truth is told and Johnny and Lisa's killers are put behind bars where they deserve to be."

MORE TO COME IN DAY THREE'S INSTALLMENT.

RELATED: Day 2: Murder in the Suburbs - The case against Sam Williams

WATCH | ALL COVERAGE OF THE 11 INVESTIGATES SERIES