Man pleads guilty in fatal beating of estranged wife

Associated Press/January 14, 2006

Jefferson, Ohio -- A man who told police he beat his estranged wife to death with a rifle butt when the gun jammed pleaded guilty on Friday to aggravated murder.

"I purposely killed my wife," Ralph Clark said in a plea hearing in Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court. Judge Ronald Vettel agreed to delay sentencing until next Wednesday so that Clark's children could attend.

Police said Clark, 44, on May 7 beat his estranged wife, 43-year-old Carolyn Clark, in the head with the stock of a rifle in front of the youngest five of their 13 children.

Clark earlier had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, meaning he did not know right from wrong at the time of the killing because of mental illness. The trial was scheduled to start next week.

Vettel ruled in October that Clark was mentally competent to assist his defense and on Dec. 22 denied a motion by Clark's court-appointed attorney, Hobart Shiflet, to suppress a recording of a confession Clark made to police after his arrest.

Shiflet and Prosecutor Thomas Sartini said they agreed to recommend a sentence of 28 years to life in prison, including a mandatory three year extension because a gun was used in the crime. Vettel said he does not have to abide by the recommendation.

Two alternate counts of murder were dropped.

Mrs. Clark's brother attended the hearing but said he would withhold comment until the sentencing.

Mrs. Clark had won custody of the children days before her death. Eight are now in county custody. Legal papers she filed in the custody dispute accused leaders of the couple's church of sexual and physical abuse against members, including children.

Clark said she was trying to get her young children away from the church, which she accused of brainwashing her husband and older children. The older children have often attended court hearings to support their father.

Prosecutors looked into the church and its bishop, Charles Keyes, but found nothing, Sartini said.

"We heard all kinds of rumors, but we found no evidence the church was complicit in her death," Sartini said.

Social service officials are looking into the abuse allegations against the Apostolic Church Body of Jesus Christ of the Newborn Assembly, which has denied wrongdoing.

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