JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A woman who lured an elderly Navy veteran into a robbery two years ago testified Tuesday that her two partners slashed Melvin Clark's throat on a rural dirt road and then threw him into the bushes “like he was nothing.”
Jennifer Schulte read a letter on the stand during the sentencing hearing for the three killers, saying she would do anything to bring Clark back.
“God knows I wish I could,” she read.
After an emotional day of testimony, Schulte, Douglas Cercy and Ray Jones were sentenced on charges of second-degree murder.
Cercy and Jones were both sentenced to life in prison. Schulte was given a 40-year sentence.
Clark's family visibly wept in court as Schulte recounted the day in April 2017 that she lured the 86-year-old to her hotel room by convincing him she was hungry while Cercy and Jones were hiding in the bathroom, waiting to abduct him.
Schulte testified that it was Cercy's idea to drive down a hunting road and that he assured Clark the whole time that he wouldn't be harmed. But after getting Clark out of the car, Cercy told him to kneel down.
Schulte previously told police she could hear Clark begging for his life before he went limp.
Clark's throat had been slashed. Schulte said Cercy had much more violent intentions to rob people but she decided on this hotel plot, which eventually got out of control.
Clark, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, survived the initial attack despite being left for dead. He was found along Maxville Macclenny Highway by a good Samaritan who helped first responders find the remote location and get Clark to a hospital.
Clark progressed slowly and was able to whisper after the attack, but never fully recovered from his injuries. He died July 26, 2017.
“For him to suffer three months, for it to happen anyway. I'm just thankful he didn't die in that ditch,” Clark's granddaughter, Shannon Rivera, said after his death in 2017.
Schulte, Cercy and Jones were caught at a bus station after tips and the discovery of Clark's stolen SUV led investigators to South Florida.
Schulte testified Tuesday they used the money they stole from Clark to buy cigarettes and crack cocaine and pay a phone bill. She ended her testimony by reading a statement to Clark's family.
"I want to honestly and sincerely tell you that I didn’t know any part of that day would happen as it did. And most of all (that) anyone would lose their life," she said.
In contrast to Schulte's extended, emotional testimony, Cercy took the stand briefly just to calmly make an apology to Clark's family.
"I just want to say I’m sorry to the victim’s family, sorry for your loss. I did not mean for it to go down like this. I’m sorry for your loss," Cercy said.
The state had said it would seek the death penalty against Cercy and Jones until the two opted for plea deals.