Half a lifetime ago, Martin Cleckley Jr. shot Robert Goosby outside a Beaver Falls bar.
Half a lifetime later, Mr. Cleckley is guilty of murder. But he may not have to spend much additional time in jail as punishment.
According to police reports, Mr. Cleckley had given Mr. Goosby three rocks of crack to sell in the bar on the night of June 9, 1992, and got agitated when Mr. Goosby did not come back out immediately. But since he was only 14, he could not go into the bar after him.
Mr. Cleckley borrowed a pistol. When Mr. Goosby came out, they argued, and he said Mr. Goosby started chasing him. He pulled out the gun and shot Mr. Goosby three times.
One of the bullets struck Mr. Goosby in the neck, paralyzing him. When police interviewed him the next day, he could only respond by blinking: once for yes, twice for no.
Was it Martin Cleckley Jr. who shot him? One blink: Yes.
Mr. Cleckley was adjudicated as a juvenile on a charge of attempted homicide. He spent almost 2 1/2 years in detention before being released in November 1994. But he got back in trouble, his release was revoked and he spent two more years locked up.
Mr. Goosby, who was 26 at the time of the shooting, ended up in the care of the federal government, eventually living in a nursing home in Akron, Ohio. Though there is a large Goosby clan in the Beaver Falls area, none are close relatives, and his mother is deceased.
In February 2004, Mr. Goosby died of an infection. The Summit County, Ohio, medical examiner reviewed the records and in June 2004 ruled that the death was a result of the gunshot wounds -- that it was a homicide. Mr. Cleckley, who was just finishing a drug sentence in state prison, was charged with homicide and put in the Beaver County Jail.
Yesterday, Mr. Cleckley, now 27, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder before Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Richard Mancini. He's to be sentenced in two months, and through a twist of the judicial system may shortly thereafter walk free.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Berosh recommended a sentence of six to 12 years, the minimum range for third-degree murder. Judge Mancini told Mr. Cleckley he would not go beyond that, unless he learns something new about Mr. Cleckley's record.
Judge Mancini also said Mr. Cleckley would get credit for time served. Counting up the time Mr. Cleckley served as a juvenile and the 18 months he's been in the county jail, he has served five years, 291 days, just 64 days from meeting the minimum sentence.
"It's 14 years ago," Mr. Berosh said, noting that one potential witness is dead and another aged. He also said that given the abbreviated nature of juvenile proceedings, there is no testimony to fall back on. "It would have been a tough trial."
Mr. Berosh noted, though, that there was poetic justice in the 12-year maximum -- from the night of the shooting until the day Mr. Cleckley was charged was 12 years, almost to the day.
An exact sentencing date has not been set.
Brian David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 724-375-6816.