Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clara Schwartz: A Deadly Game

Hulbert's Decision

Mike Pfohl
Mike Pfohl

On December 20, Michael Paul Pfohl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting that he had assisted two friends with the murder of Robert Schwartz a year earlier. He had agreed, he said, to drive Hulbert to the home where the murder took place, and he felt ashamed about his part in the crime. He faced a maximum of 21 years and four months in prison. In a written statement, Pfohl admitted that he and his girlfriend, Katherine Inglis, drove to the Springfield mall on the night of December 8. They met friends there, and Pfohl told someone that he was scared to take Hulbert where he wanted to go. He was aware that Hulbert was going to kill someone and he did not want to be an accessory to murder. Having called his involvement a "big oopsy" on the day he was arrested, he admitted that he vaguely realized what he was getting into. In a written apology, he asked Robert Schwartz to give him some "sign" that he was "well." He also excused Hulbert on the basis that Hulbert believed he was right to do what he did. Nevertheless, Pfohl seemed to think he had betrayed Hulbert, and seemed to be sorrier about that than about his role in the murder.

Hulbert had been charged with first-degree murder. People speculated that he would pursue an insanity defense, i.e., prove that he had a mental disorder that kept him from understanding that what he had done was wrong or had caused him to have an irresistible impulse to commit the crime. But on February 27, 2003, newspapers noted that he was not going to do that. His attorneys had a deadline to inform the court of their intent and did not do so. Because of the evidence of premeditation, as well as the admissions made afterward, an insanity defense would be difficult to pursue, despite Hulbert's clear history of mental instability. His trial was scheduled for March 17 in Loudoun County Circuit Court. In his defense, he stated, "I have always told Clara I would protect her. I could not kill him [Schwartz] without just cause. If I was not defending myself or someone I loved, I could not kill."

On March 10, 2003, at a 15-minute hearing a week before Hulbert's scheduled trial, he declared himself a murderer in court. He had decided that making a plea rather than going to trial was the right thing to do. Admitting regret for his actions and for ever having met Clara Schwartz, he said that she had manipulated him into doing what he had done. "I allowed myself to be poisoned," he was quoted as saying in the Washington Post, "Not a day goes by that I don't think about what I did."

Psychiatrist Howard Glick testified before sentencing that Hulbert had made up imaginary friends such as vampires and dragons to make him feel as if he had a sense of family. He had connected strongly with Clara, who also felt like an outsider and claimed that she'd been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and that had given him an even greater sense of family. She was now his sister, and he had to protect her. When she needed help, he got the chance to act on his fantasies of heroism and nobility. It was as simple as that, and as tragic.

Judge Horne acknowledged Hulbert's difficult life in and out of institutions and foster care, but said to him what he said to Clara: You are responsible for your actions. For the murder, Hulbert was sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole, and another 10 years was added concurrently for conspiracy charges.

Last to be sentenced was Katherine Inglis. Schwartz and Pfohl, on the advice of their attorneys, offered nothing to implicate her, so her case came to an end. There were no other leads to investigate to prove her part in the murder, aside from helping to cover it up. On November 14, 2003, she received a sentence of 12 months. At that time, the Washington Post noted, she had six more days to serve.


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