Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clara Schwartz: A Deadly Game

Clara's Trial

Katherine Inglis made her deal with prosecutors to testify in return for having the first-degree murder charge dropped. Yet she still faced other accessory charges. Her case would not be settled until the other three were concluded.

Clara's trial was first, followed by Hulbert's. Pretrial hearings indicated that Clara now claimed to have been sexually abused by her father. Her defense attorneys hoped to portray her as a kid dealing with troubling issues who found escape in fantasy and thus did not realize that the young man she had urged to kill her father might actually go through with it. In her fantasy play, she took on roles of people who needed protecting. "In the fall of 2001," defense attorney James Connell said, according to court records, "the silly dark world of Clara Schwartz collided with the dark and dangerous world of Kyle Hulbert."

However, prosecutors had a surprise: They had located another young man whom Clara had approached for the same purpose. That took some of the starch out of the defense's argument, though not all of it.

The trial began in October 2002, ten months after the murder. Clara wore a blue sweater and a long skirt for the first day of testimony. In an opening statement, prosecutor Jennifer Wexton said that Clara had initially asked a man named Patrick House, 21, to kill her father. He had participated in her roleplaying fantasy game in the role of an assassin, but he said when he had realized that Clara was serious about committing a violent act, he quickly distanced himself from the others. He said that she hated her father and wanted her considerable inheritance.

Clara Schwartz, 2000
Clara Schwartz, 2000

While parricide is a fairly rare crime that is overwhelmingly committed by boys, writes Charles Patrick Ewing in Fatal Families, there are occasional cases of girls either killing or engaging someone else to kill their father. Mostly such murders are triggered by abuse, but some are done out of greed. One case that Ewing cites occurred in Texas in 1994. Jennifer Nicole Yesconis, 20, was invited to dinner to celebrate her father's fifth anniversary to her stepmother. She did not show up, but her boyfriend and another boy did, and they shot and killed Mr. and Mrs. Yesconis. According to the killers, Nicole had masterminded the killings to collect on her father's insurance policy. She went to trial saying that she had been sexually abused, but another witness recalled her saying that she would pay $30,000 to someone to kill her father. She was convicted of capital murder.

The case of Clara Schwartz was similar but a bit more elaborate. Patrick House had briefly dated her prior to the killing of her father. He described the fantasy game called "Underworld" that Clara had invented. She had played a character called Lord Chaos, and he had been an assassin. Clara referred to the victim in the game as Old Guy, her "evil father." She ordered House to kill him as part of the game, but eventually he found a way to put her off until he could extricate himself from the role. That's when she turned to Kyle Hulbert, whom she met shortly thereafter. He was called on to testify, but invoked his right against self-incrimination and did not take the stand. Nevertheless, his written confession was allowed in as evidence. In addition, a document found in Clara's room, dated December 8, appeared to thank her cohorts in coded language for their part in the act.

The defense attorneys jumped into action. They tried to make House appear as out of touch with reality as Hulbert was, hoping to show that both young men had misunderstood what she had said. One attorney got House to admit to his belief that dragons were real and had lived during the times of King Arthur. He also indicated that he believed in casting spells. He had cast one to protect himself "against other people's magic," using salt, sanctified water, and a candle. The jury was now exposed to a boy one who had some pretty strange beliefs of his own.

Defense attorneys also used school psychologist Kathleen Aux to shore up their argument. She addressed the psychological problems that Hulbert had in a way that affirmed that he could have misinterpreted what Clara actually wanted.

Yet the prosecution had another witness as well: a friend of Clara's who said that Clara had mentioned on several occasions that she wanted her father dead. Katherine Inglis, too, added that she had witnessed a conversation in which Clara had angrily described her father's abuse.

On October 15, after a week of testimony and only four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Clara of first-degree murder. The prosecutor asked for a stiff sentence, but the defense cited mitigating factors in light of Clara's testimony about abuse. The jurors recommended a 48-year prison sentence. The defense attorneys said they would appeal on the grounds that the jury had not given enough consideration to the evidence, especially with regard to the psychological issues suffered by Hulbert, the killer.

Judge Thomas Horne scheduled the formal sentencing for January 21. The defense tried to delay it, pending a psychological report on Hulbert, but this motion was denied. Nevertheless, sentencing was delayed into February so the judge could examine the defense's notion that the prosecution had not turned over evidence they possessed of actual abuse of Clara Schwartz. The defense also wanted to file a motion, based on an interview with one of Clara's high-school teachers, that her father had verbally abused her. The teacher thought that Schwartz had more or less abandoned the girl, and that the two had often engaged in serious arguments. Clara's sister acknowledged that the two had had a stormy relationship, especially when they lived together alone in the home during Clara's senior year. In a last-ditch effort, the defense attorneys argued that Clara's actions were the result of hyperthyroidism. They wanted the sentence to be reduced to 30 years.

On February 10, after the judge decided that the defense's motion issue about abuse would have had no effect on the verdict, he sentenced Clara Schwartz to 48 years in prison, meaning she would be released when she was 68 (with a possible reduction to age 61). Judge Horne told her in a fatherly manner that she was responsible for her actions. In an AP article, Heather Greenfield wrote that Clara showed no emotion as she left the courtroom. She also did not look at any of her relatives, some of whom had testified against her.

Next up was Kyle Hulbert.

 

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