I think that many of us would agree that most murders are senseless but some are more senseless than others. In fact, I heard one just the other day that I plan to blog about at some point in which a professor killed a student on his debate team because he had talked back to him and he may have heard was thinking of leaving the school, let alone the team. This case does not quite rise to that level when it comes to asking “What was the point?” but I would have to say it is pretty close.
Shaun Cleland had grown up in Brunswick Ohio. After graduation he had joined the Army and was stationed in Hawaii. Shaun would meet Christine while he was stationed there. He was twenty and she was eighteen. Just exactly when they married does not seem to be completely clear. During his first enlistment it seems as if Shaun may have been deployed to Iraq but I cannot say for certain. After his enlistment ended he and Christine headed to Ohio where Shaun would enlist in the National Guard. It seems that he was sent to Italy for a time and then in 2004 he decided to re-enlist in the Army. While it was never completely clear as to when Shaun and Christine's marriage began to deteriorate but in the Spring of 2005 Shaun did some training in Texas. In July of that year he would meet a woman named Jessica who was also in the Army and was training, as he would be, to be a medic and for a tour in Afghanistan. By August not only was Shaun headed back to Hawaii for training but it seemed the marriage was over because almost immediately (or prior) to him leaving his name was removed from the lease of their apartment.
For the next few month Shaun would apparently call Christine several times attempting to discuss working things out but in the meantime he had developed a relationship with Jessica, the woman he had met months before. Whether she had been the initial reason for the split is unclear. It could have been just as likely that Christine, being young, only twenty one by then, did not like all the time she spent being alone as an Army wife. I find it suspicious that he seemed to have re-enlisted in the Army and yet she never seemed to leave Brunswick. This tells me that it is possible she was not on board with his re-enlistment.
Nineteen year old David Heinricht also lived in the apartment building now occupied only by Christine Cleland. About a week after Shaun had left David's roommate moved out. It was said that in the beginning, David, who worked part time at a Starbucks, and Christine, who worked at a bar, decided for David to move in with her to save on rent money. Soon though it seemed that the two felt more than just friendship but it was never clear just how serious the relationship had become.
On October 1, 2005 while stationed in Hawaii Shaun Cleland went AWOL and flew to Ohio. He got to the Cleveland airport around noon and went to rent a vehicle. The clerk would later identify him saying she remembered him, not just because his size in stature or his lack of luggage but because of his attitude. He had been rather belligerent to the clerk and in a rush to get a car. He then drove the half hour or so it took to get to Brunswick. He had told no-one that he was in town or was going to be but most believe that was a planned effort. By the time he would make it back to Hawaii he would be gone just over twenty four hours, he was hoping no one would realize.
Shaun would arrive at his former apartment building around four that afternoon. Just what he had done since he had gotten the car rental is not clear. The building had an intercom system and since he no longer lived there he did not have a key so he buzzed the apartment. David was still home and he answered the call. Shaun told David that there was a tattoo kit inside the home that he needed and asked to come up. David refused to let him the building. Not that it was not the right decision for David to make but I found it a bit odd and indicates to me that there were more issues between Shaun and Christine than may have been reported later. David was described as a laid back, easy going guy and while allowing Shaun in to get something would have been uncomfortable I get the impression that for David to tell him he could not come in could have been just as uncomfortable for him. During this time, or just after David had looked out the window and saw Shaun and likely wondered why he was not in Hawaii as he was expected to be. Whether David called Christine is unclear but Shaun did. She was at work and apparently still believed or led Shaun to believe at that point that she believed he was still in Hawaii. Shaun told the same story about the tattoo kit inside the apartment but told Christine that he had sent a friend over to retrieve it. He was attempting it seems to get Christine to tell David to let him in. But, she too refused. Then it seems that David had called the police. They arrived and asked him to leave, which he did.
By 4:45 Shaun was sitting at the bar when Christine worked. When she noticed him there it was unclear if she was surprised, scared or angry according to her co-workers. However, they seemed to have no qualms at describing Shaun's look.... angry. He drank several beers at the bar and kept asking Christine to work things out between them. He stayed until about 8:30 or so. Christine remained at work until 12:30.
David only lived a few blocks from the Starbucks that he worked at and he generally walked. That night he had to work from 7 to 11:30 but had asked his dad to drive him. It seems that he was feeling uneasy about the events that had occurred earlier. After work several of the workers were going to go to Applebees, something often did, but David did not want to go that night and asked his co-worker, Tammy, if she would drop him off at home on her way.
When Christine would later say that when she got off work at 12:30 that morning, something just did not feel right. She had hurried home faster than normal and had even left her things in her car as she went up to her apartment. When she entered she found David on the floor with a rope tied around his neck. The rope was initially tied around a beam in the kitchen and draped into the front room. Christine immediately cut the rope from David's neck and screamed for help while she pumped his chest. She then ran out of the apartment door and down the hall telling neighbors to call 911. It was nearly one in the morning when paramedics arrived.
Beside David's body was a note that was supposedly a suicide note but Christine knew better and told authorities. It was not just that she could not believe that David would commit suicide, there were several other things. For one, while the note had been type written the name “Dave” at the bottom was handwritten. David never used that name and Christine recognized the handwriting as belonging to Shaun. She also pointed out that the knot used in the noose around David's neck was a military knot that David would not have known how to make.
Authorities were able to track Shaun down and just as he believed he was going to board his plane in Cleveland. They had apparently been staking out the area and when Shaun went to the counter to show his boarding pass the clerk nodded to authorities who swept in and arrested him. His first story to police was that he had come into town simply to surprise Christine and that he had seen her, talked to her, had a few beers and drove around. That was it. When confronted with more evidence he changed his story. The next version had him climbing on the roof of the apartment building a little after eleven and then dropping down to the balcony that he was sure was unlocked. He went into the empty apartment and began rummaging through things and found what he called 'explicit” pictures of Christine. It was unclear if he already knew where those pictures were or if they were taken after the relationship had ended. Shaun told investigators that he saw a rope under the bed and made a noose and as he headed back into the front room David came in the door. He claimed that David attacked him so he put the noose around his neck and pulled tight.
Investigators did not buy Shaun's story completely. They did believe that he had been on the roof. In fact two neighbors would later say they saw someone up here about that time and although they could not officially identify Shaun they knew it was a man. Investigators did not believe that David had attacked him but that Shaun had laid in wait for him. A few things led to this conclusion. David's body had been found near his PlayStation and he had a cigarette in his hand. There is no way he would have been fighting Shaun and still kept the cigarette in his hand. I could not even tell you for sure that David smoked, but Shaun did, in fact several cigarettes in the apartment were tested for DNA and Shaun's was found. This too led detectives to believe he was in the apartment longer than he said. They also believed that the letter that was left near David's body, that was to Christine and urged her to “go back” to her husband was typed up by Shaun while he was still in Hawaii. He only added the signature after the murder.
At this point Shaun finally called his family and let them know he was in town. It was kind of like the movie Sweet Home Alabama when she calls and tells her parents she is in town except she is in jail. The difference is Shaun's dad, who was a sergeant with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's department, could not just go and bail him out.
In March of 2006 Shaun decided to plead guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to twenty-eight years to life meaning he had to serve twenty-eight years before he was eligible for parole. But, that sentence did not stick when it was tossed out due to the fact that the judge had failed to tell him that after his release he would be required to serve five years on probation. He decided to then take his case to trial.
It was said that before he had pleaded guilty in 2006 he had attempted to fire his lawyers and withdraw his plea but for whatever reason that was denied. Whether it was then, or during his trial in June of 2009 that he came up with his third story is unclear. However, that new story was that a man with a ski mask had killed David. He claimed the man had abducted him and made him watch as he murdered David. The story was too outrageous to be true and of course the jury did not believe it. He was found guilty of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and kidnapping. On July 23, 2009 he was given a sentence of thirty-five to life, this time having to serve the thirty-five years before being eligible for parole. In 2012 that was reduced to thirty years to life when the courts said that the original sentence was thirty to life but the judge had tacked on the remaining five year sentence on the end of the sentence while it should have been a concurrent sentence. Either way Shaun Cleland does is not even eligible for parole consideration until September of 2040.
The motive behind this murder just seems so unclear. While Shaun was driving around Ohio and plotting the murder of David (I do agree with detectives that this was premeditated and planned) he was still making calls to his girlfriend, Jessica who was on vacation in Alaska. They continued to talk and/or joke as they had recently about their own wedding. And yet, there he was in Ohio proclaiming his love to Christine. Not only that, but it appears as if the relationship between Christine and David was likely not all that super serious, at least not yet. It was not as if Shaun was completely pining over Christine. He had seemingly moved on with Jessica. A nineteen year old boy lost his life over something so stupid as apparently jealousy. It is just completely senseless and Shaun Cleland deserves to spend every day of the rest of his life in prison.