Man Kept Dead Girlfriend in His Bed for Two Weeks Because He Loved Her, Says Defense

The fact that Heather Stearns was found dead in the bed didn't mean John Clauer killed her, attorney Zach Schwarzbach told the jury in his closing argument

Defendant John Clauer, on trial for murdering his girlfriend and keeping her corpse in his bed.
Defendant John Clauer, on trial for murdering his girlfriend and keeping her corpse in his bed.
John Clauer, 66, loved the 30-year-old woman he kept dead in his bed for two and a half weeks because he couldn't face the fact that she was dead, defense attorney Zach Schwarzbach told a Santa Cruz jury in his closing statement Friday.

Schwarzbach read a letter Clauer wrote Stearns, his companion of several years, telling her he loved her and wanted her to come home and stay sober.

"How does any of us respond to the death of a loved one?" Schwarzbach asked the eight-woman, four-man jury. "There's no script. There may have been better choices, but it's hard to say what's right and what's wrong in dealing with a loss."

Schwarzbach pointed to other cases in the news in which people kept corpses in their homes, including a woman in Denmark who kept her husband's body for a year before reporting it.

In his rebuttal, prosecutor Jeff Rosell scoffed at the notion that Clauer kept the body because he was a "super-sensitive guy" who loved Stearns. Clauer, he said, had a history of violence against women and had beaten Stearns in 2007, landing her in the hospital.

"He took a hammer to her and told her to shut the fuck up," said Rosell, in a case that has produced some of the most bizarre and tragic testimony in county history and has received nationwide attention.

John Clauer is charged with first-degree murder, for which he can receive life in prison. He is accused of beating his alcoholic girlfriend to death in his East Cliff Drive apartment and then leaving her in his bed for two weeks, until neighbors complained about the stench.

Clauer told the neighbors it was his trash that smelled. But when two of them got the key to his apartment, they saw Stearns's decomposed body in his bed. Jurors saw horrific pictures of the body during the prosecutor's case.

During the trial, the veteran who served in Vietnam and received an honorable discharge in 1970, sat stoically. In earlier hearings he shouted out and had to be quieted by Judge John Salazar.

Schwarzbach told the jury that Clauer didn't report her death to police because he was afraid of the government, after serving in Vietnam and because he was on parole. His record includes the 2007 battery, the burglary of a lighting store and possession of narcotics.

Some of the defense case hung on a fingernail. Schwarzbach presented evidence that there was DNA under one of Stearns's nails that belonged to someone other than Clauer. He suggested that someone else killed her and left her in Clauer's bed, either because they planned to rob him or because he was an easy target, being a parolee.

Schwarzbach also argued that if Clauer had killed her, he would have fled to Mexico. Instead he stayed around and paid his rent and storage fees for his RV. And, he said, Clauer kept her in the apartment but probably didn't sleep there because he didn't smell badly. No one reported the horrible smell of death wafting from him. 

Rosell said the evidence of violence and abuse outweighed such speculations. And he argued that despite the defense finding a few cases in which people kept dead bodies in their homes, this was a rarity.

"It is unusual," he said, adding the defense had to scan the world to find other cases. "It doesn't happen. It happens very rarely."

Amanda Nuzzo Font January 24, 2014 at 06:50 PM
I remember when this guy was first arraigned. I sat in the courtroom a few rows behind him, and I'm certain he was not at all remorseful. There were no tears of love. Gave me the creeps. Eesh.
Brad Kava (Editor) January 24, 2014 at 09:21 PM
I was with you!
Cassie Maas January 25, 2014 at 09:37 AM
He left her in his bed while he struggled to figure out where to hide her body.
L.J. CoffeeHead January 25, 2014 at 11:09 AM
Isn't there a name for men who 'love' dead, rotting women? lol.
Moonglow January 25, 2014 at 09:43 PM
L.J. its called Necrophilia. He's a sick dude
Cathie Hardy January 26, 2014 at 02:31 AM
This man is not a sociopath nor is he a necrophiliac. He is, however bi polar. And thanks to the dismantling of the mental health system in the great state of California he was never diagnosed or treated.
Charles Paymer January 26, 2014 at 12:12 PM
Just another case of an evil defense attorney lying away a client's guilt
toby January 26, 2014 at 01:30 PM
Charles paymer.HAH!That's hilarious.Evil defense,man what planet are you on.Like the prosecuters aren't by far the most evil people on the planet.They even hide evidence from cases every day that prove some of these peopl's innocent so they can cget a conviction at all cost.Even as far as to execute innocent people.Just look at the people that have been proven to be innocent on death row over the last couple of yrs and these prosecuters still want them murdered.Thank goodness for DNA.It's saving a lot of innocent lives that were to be murdered on death row.
David Huntington January 26, 2014 at 02:31 PM
Shawn Gilman January 26, 2014 at 06:50 PM
Barnes & Barnes...lol. fish heads...fish heads... Did you know that billy Mumy from lost in space is in that band?
tommy whirple January 26, 2014 at 09:16 PM
Sounds like a typical case of necrophilia to me. Some people actually do that, can you believe it?
John Watson January 27, 2014 at 02:15 AM
Owen January 27, 2014 at 06:09 AM
what a nut!!
Poot January 27, 2014 at 09:22 AM
His neighbors got a key to his apartment? I'm hoping someone is being charged with burglary here...
Scottilla January 27, 2014 at 11:03 AM
I hold your hand in mine, dear, I press it to my lips. I take a healthy bite From your dainty fingertips. My joy would be complete, dear, If you were only here, But still I keep your hand As a precious souvenir. The night you died I cut it off. I really don't know why. For now each time I kiss it I get bloodstains on my tie. I'm sorry now I killed you, For our love was something fine, And till they come to get me I shall hold your hand in mine. Tom Lehrer
Marc Paige January 27, 2014 at 04:24 PM
I think he figured it was his last chance to be with a 30 year old woman. Okay,she stank-but he wasn't anything to write home about either.
Barbara Matthews January 28, 2014 at 04:55 PM
What kind of human (non-human) could do this? This is sickening beyond belief. (I like Avon)


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