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A Summit County jury found former Northfield Center resident Willard McCarley guilty for the third time in the 1992 murder of Charlene Puffenbarger, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh announced today.
Jurors found McCarley guilty of aggravated murder, a special felony.
McCarley beat, strangled, and suffocated 26-year-old Charlene Puffenbarger on Jan. 20, 1992. Puffenbarger had two toddler sons at the time of her murder, one of whom testified at two of the three trials. Both boys were in the apartment at the time of the murder.
This was the third jury trial for McCarley on charges he killed Puffenbarger. In both previous trials (2005 and 2007), Summit County jurors found McCarley guilty of aggravated murder; however, those verdicts were overturned upon appeal and McCarley was granted new trials.
Investigators originally arrested McCarley in 2004 following advances in DNA technology. Officers linked McCarley to the murder through DNA found on the leather belt used to strangle Charlene.
Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Joy Malek Oldfield is scheduled to sentence McCarley tomorrow at 2 p.m.
A 2014 decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati sent the case back down to lower courts for a third trial.
The U.S. appellate court's decision was based on a violation of McCarley’s Sixth Amendment right to confront a witness, according to the 2014 ruling.
Summit County prosecutors alleged over two trials in February 2005 and January 2007 that McCarley committed the murder to avoid paying child support to Puffenbarger for a son they had together.
However, three Sixth Circuit judges found that much of the state's case in the January 2007 trial was based on hearsay testimony from a child psychologist, who testified about statements made to her by Puffenbarger's son, then 3, who witnessed the murder.
Since McCarley's defense team never had an opportunity to depose or cross examine Puffenbarger's son, this violated McCarley's right to confront witnesses against him, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2014.
McCarley had been sentenced to life in prison by Summit County Common Pleas Court by Judge Marvin Shapiro following McCarley's initial, 2005 aggravated murder conviction.
But the Ninth District Court of Appeals granted McCarley a second trial in 2006, overturning the February 2005 verdict and life sentence because a comment Shapiro made to a witness during the first trial possibly prejudiced a witness.