COVINGTON -- The death penalty trial of a Covington man charged with the 2009 robbery and murder of a Conyers landscaper began Wednesday in Newton County Superior Court.
Pablo Fernando Maldonado, now 25, of 1738-B Kirkland Road, Covington, is charged with malice murder, two counts of felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, concealing the death of another and forgery in the second degree.
He is facing the charges in connection with the murder of 55-year-old Timothy Clements, a Conyers landscaper who was beaten with a metal baseball bat and hammer, tied up with a telephone cord and a grocery bag placed over his head and his body thrown into Snapping Shoals Creek near Ga. Highways 212 and 81 in June 2009 during a robbery. Clements left behind a wife, Barbara, and two children.
"It was the ultimate betrayal," District Attorney Layla Zon told the jurors in the courtroom of Judge Horace Johnson during opening statements Wednesday morning.
She told them how Maldonado met Clements in church, and Clements took him under his wing by providing him a job with his company, starting him in a rental home he owned on Kirkland Road and helping him purchase two vehicles, the second after he wrecked the first.
Zon said that Maldonado "took advantage of those opportunities."
"That friendship ended violently in a brutal murder," she told jurors.
She said that evidence and witnesses will prove that Maldonado was the mastermind who led and manipulated three others to conspire to murder Clements.
Lithonia residents Christian Caldwell, who was 17 at the time, and his pregnant girlfriend Brittney Beasley, who was 18, also were arrested in connection with the murder. Caldwell was charged with murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, armed robbery, concealing of a death, false imprisonment and theft by taking, while Beasley was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Their charges are pending, and they are expected to testify during Maldonado's trial.
A 16-year-old female juvenile, who was Maldonado's girlfriend, also was arrested in connection with the murder and has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder but has yet to be sentenced.
Zon plans to use evidence found at the scene, officials from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, telephone experts and witness statements to show that Maldonado conspired with his friends to rob Clements, kill him and sell his possessions for more money.
"The motive was simple, the motive was money," Zon told jurors. "Maldonado never had money. The man never had money, no matter how much Mr. Clements loaned him."
After discussing a plan at least several days prior with multiple individuals and then backing out on a first attempt, Zon accused Maldonado of luring Clements to his rental duplex on June 11, 2009, saying there was a water leak.
Inside, the home was covered in sheets, and the windows and doors were nailed shut.
When Clements walked in, Zon said Caldwell hit him with a metal baseball bat and then, after Clements fell to the ground in pain, Maldonado beat him in the back of the head with a hammer. Then they tied him up with a phone cord, placed a bag on his head to contain the blood and placed him in the closet.
"They all had roles," Zon said of the alleged conspirators.
Zon said that Beasley forged Clements' signature on a check and was ordered to clean up the mess alone, after the 16-year-old failed to participate out of fear. Meanwhile, the two men tried to cash Clements' check and got rid of his truck and equipment and later his body that they covered with sheets from Maldonado's bed and fabric that was found in the home.
"This is not a rocket science kind of plan," Zon said.
In the meantime, Clements' wife and others were looking for him, calling hospitals and law enforcement. The next day, two boys who were fishing found Clements' body in the creek.
Deputies were alerted to the fact that Clements would have been at Maldonado's home the day of his death, so they searched the house, which smelled of bleach. The GBI also found Clements' blood in the house, Zon said.
Jurors were warned that during the trial they would see "gruesome photos" from the scene of where the body was found and from a crime lab autopsy.
Maldonado was arrested in Alabama where he had fled with the female juvenile. After being questioned, he used Clements' friendship as a defense, saying he would have never hurt his "angel," Zon said.
Defense attorney Stephen Yekel, with the Georgia Public Defender's office, told jurors that Maldonado was at the house at the time of the event, but that Caldwell was really the mastermind.
"There was never any intent to harm (Clements)," Yekel said, adding that Maldonado tried to call Clements again to change his mind so he wouldn't come in the house.
He told jurors to pay attention to codefendants' testimonies and changing statements, and that evidence would show that many people had overheard a plan but nobody called police.
"(Maldonado) is full of crap sometimes," Yekel told jurors. "He embellishes. People don't take him serious."
He added that while Maldonado took part in the plan and used his vehicle to transport the body, he did not inflict a blow to Clements.
"Pay close attention to the evidence," Yekel told jurors. "The fact that someone is charged is not evidence. The fact that someone is indicted is not evidence. ... Find Mr. Maldonado guilty of what he did, not what others say he did."
The trial is expected to continue at least until next week at the Newton County Courthouse.