Clara Schwartz

More and more often it seems that the sides of a courtroom drama becomes blurred.  We all know the vast majorities of murders are committed by those closest to the victims.  When it is a spouse or a significant other on trial the courtroom is generally, although not always, divided.  The victim's family is almost always behind the prosecutor while the family of the accused sits behind the defense.  But, when it comes to murders committed by children of the victim the line is not as easily determined a lot of the time.  This is not necessarily one of those cases however.  

Clara Schwartz was accused of plotting the murder of her father, Robert, a Leesburg Virginia resident who was considered to be an expert in the field of DNA.  The majority of her family sat with the prosecution at her trial, not only believing in her guilt, but later asking for the stiffest punishment allowed.  It was said, only one relative, an uncle apparently supported her.  But, I should be clear that he did not necessarily believe in her innocence, nor did he condone her actions.  What he did was try to come up with an explanation as to why events had occurred on December 8, 2001.

Prosecutors would charge that Clara Schwartz had convinced her friend, Kyle Hulbert that her father was abusive towards her and asked him to kill her father. Hulbert, who would have a significant mental illness history, had taken two others with him on the night that he stabbed Robert Schwartz nearly forty times with a sword.  Prosecutors would also argue that his was all done in the name of a role playing fantasy game.  

For their part, while the defense agreed that Clara had a less than perfect relationship with her father, they argued that Kyle Hulbert, due to his mental issues had not only taken the things Clara said out of context but had imagined himself as her protector. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder long before he ever met Clara Schwartz. Therefore they argued that Hulbert had committed the act of murdering Robert Schwartz without any prompting from Clara.  The prosecutors disagreed, and had a few willing to testify to prove it.  

Now, I am not going to defend the actions of those accused, nor the facts that were presented to prove the case.  But, I am going to point out that when this crime occurred, and when it was presented to the courts in the early 2000's there was a huge belief, especially in the conservative south that those who considered themselves "goth" or wore such clothing associated were all but inherently "evil."  We saw this in the West Memphis Three case, and in my opinion it was significantly used by the prosecution in this case.  While they discussed the role playing fantasy game that Clara and her friends were associated with they were also quick to make links to vampires, assassins and magic.  These references were used in any way and at any time they could be to taint the minds of not just juries but the general public.  If they threw in a couple "heavy metal" rock bands their circle was complete.  In my opinion cases in which things such as this were so significantly used despite their relevance was akin to a modern day witch hunt.  To be clear, it was not just the reference of these things that were made, it was the ancient beliefs associated with them. For example, I will use the game Dungeons and Dragons.  There is, or was, a long standing belief that anyone who played this game was associated with the devil and devil worshiping.  This led to references of supposed "sacrifices" and a variety of things, true or not.  Now, this is not to say that there were not people that played the game that did evil things, possibly even murder, but attorney's, especially prosecutors, would make automatic correlations.  But, what is sadder than the fact that the courts allowed it is that the people bought it.  

It is proven that on December 8, 2001 Kyle Hulbert, along with friends, Michael Pfohl and Katherine Inglis drove to the home of Robert Schwartz while his daughter Clara was at her dorm at college.  Kyle Hulbert admits going inside alone and murdering Robert Schwartz with a sword provided to him by Michael Pfohl.  He returned to the car, wiped down the sword and it was promptly thrown into a body of water.

Two days later Robert's body was discovered inside his home with multiple stab wounds.  As with almost all cases those closest to Robert were interviewed first, including his daughter Clara.  Investigators would learn that Robert and Clara had a very rocky relationship from a variety of people.  Her uncle, her father's brother, would testify that Clara was "troubled" and that a diagnoses of a hyperthyroid condition caused her to be confused and paranoid.  I will be the first to say I have not heard of this happening, but to each their own.  Clara's phone logs were looked into and it was discovered that about the time in which it was believed that the murder occurred that she had received a call from Hulbert.  When investigators talked to her about this call it appears that she caved very quickly.  Well maybe the word "caved" is not the exact phrase to use because while Clara implicated Hulbert in the murder of her father she seemed to want to put as much distance between herself and the crime as she could.

It seems that Hulbert would confess rather easily himself.  He would claim that Clara had told him that her father not only physically abused her but that he had done things such as attempted to poison her through her food and that he planned to kill her on an upcoming vacation the two were to have.  The defense would be correct in the fact that Hulbert, who had only known Clara a few months, shortly after his last of many stays in the hospital, thought himself as Clara's protector.  But, according to Hulbert, the defense was wrong about the most important thing.  He, and others stated that Clara had not just suggested or asked, but some say was obsessed, that her father be killed.

Of the four people prosecutors believed were involved in the crime Clara would be the only one to face a trial.  Despite his issues involving his mental health Hulbert pleaded guilty and received a sentence of life without parole.  Michael Pfohl pleaded guilty of 2nd degree murder and received a sentence of eighteen years, a parole date is set for later this year. And, Katherine Inglis would plead guilty to her charge of conspiracy and be give a one year sentence. Her sentence was likely so little because she had been the first to implicate Clara and cooperate with police in giving them the details of what had occurred, before, during and after the murder.  But, Clara would continue to plead not guilty throughout her trial.

The prosecution had a job to prove the defense wrong.  In the years leading up to meeting Clara, Kyle Hulbert had been hospitalized over a half a dozen times regarding his mental health issues, and as stated had only been out a very short time when he met Clara.  The prosecution apparently did not have a hard time proving that Clara was involved considering Inglis had already led them to Clara but they also had a former boyfriend of Clara's named Patrick House.  House would testify that Clara talked obsessively about her father dying, that she had stated she had researched herbal poisons so that his death would look natural and talked about how much money she would inherit upon his death.

Put all together it did appear that Clara was guilty and the jury agreed.  In October of 2002 she was convicted of 1st degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of solicitation to murder.  in February of 2003 she was sentenced to forty-eight years in prison. The judge was clear to point out that this sentence was considered what is called a truth in sentencing meaning that she would serve every day before she could be released. A 2010 appeal affirmed her conviction and sentence.

It was said that Hulbert pleaded guilty to prevent not just his family but Robert Schwartz's family the agony of facing a trial.  However, with my interest in the mental health community I personally wish that he would have at the very least negotiated a better deal for himself or taken his case to trial and argued diminished capacity.  

I have often said that there is a fine line between an excuse and a reason. People are very quick to judge in situations in which they have an idea of how things should work when they have no true experience.  I do not believe that Hulbert should have not gotten a punishment for his role but I do believe his mental illness should have not only been taken into account, but I also feel that prison is not going to give him the help that he truly needs.  His mental health issues are well documented and began several years before he ever met Clara. Again, he should have been punished in some manner for his actions but I believe that his sentence and the fact that he will be denied ever the chance to be released is not really any sort of "deal" at all.


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