After three weeks of trial, Vietnam veteran John Clauer, 66, was found guilty Monday of murdering his alcoholic girlfriend, Heather Stearns, 30 two years ago in their East Cliff Drive apartment.
In a particularly gruesome case, Clauer kept Stearns's body in his bed for two and a half weeks until neighbors complained about the terrible smell and went inside and found the body.
Neighbors said they heard a faint cry for help and sounds of a struggle and stomping from the apartment, but didn't call police. They said fights and shouting were typical from the couple. Prosecutor Jeff Rosell said Clauer supplied alcohol in return for sex from Stearns and killed her after a car he had put in her name was towed away.
Defense attorney Zach Schwartzbach argued that DNA found under Stearn's fingernail pointed to another killer.
Moments after the verdict was announced by the eight-woman, four-man jury, Stearn's mother posted a plea on a Facebook site called For the Love of Heather Stearns to the community to report crimes they suspect and lamented that no one came out to support Stearns.
"For a parent there is no greater heartache than losing a child. It is especially traumatic when they are taken in such a violent manner. Adding insult to injury, the media coverage from our local newspaper set the tone; “Slain woman, troubled life;a serial inebriate;a list of arrests for public drunkenness then going on to list the dates and number of times arrested. She was a nuisance to the community”; she was just a drunk.
There was no community compassion or empathy for the brutal murder of Heather. She was not a store owner or a public servant. No flowers were left at the scene, no vigils were held. I know Heather was no angel and you’ve heard about Heather’s bad behavior. The fact remains, she was a human being who was brutally beaten and strangled to death. As with other victims of murder, Heather leaves behind family and friends who loved her and grieve for their loss.
Alcohol took over Heather’s life and she changed because of it. Heather tried, many times, to get sober.Heather used to be thoughtful, sweet, loving and full of dreams, one of which was to be a veterinarian. Heather would show up at my house sobbing and say, “Mom, I can’t take this anymore”. I always considered Heather’s drinking a choice, right up to the weeks she stayed with me shortly before she was brutally murdered. I was wrong. Alcoholism is a horrible disease and played out like mental illness. I look back and think how stupid I was to think it was her choice to drink. It was not her choice, it was the disease.
Heather was not John Clauer’s girlfriend! Heather was there to get alcohol and he just happened to be the supplier. The fact is, Heather was a frightened little girl hiding in alcohol. Heather once told me she was uncomfortable in her own skin. Heather started drinking at the end of her senior year, experimenting, as many of us did as teens. Unfortunately, Heather was not prepared for life on the streets. Heather was a shy, naïve, lost teenager who didn’t know where she fit in. People on the street accepted her. Heather met people much more seasoned at life on the streets. Men took advantage of her. Heather’s life was hard. Anger and bitterness had taken over and many attempts at getting sober failed.
To John Clauer; you preyed on vulnerable women so you could take advantage of and control them. I think of how frightened my daughter must have been. You are the face of evil. You took Heather’s life, a shy, naïve, lost young woman, by brutally beating and strangling her to death. You killed any hope that Heather could one day get sober and fulfill her dreams. You killed my child who was loved by her family and friends. You are a coward and a psychopath. You should rot in prison for the rest of your life without the possibility of ever doing this to another human being.
To the community;if you hear someone screaming for help, please, call 911. No matter the history of a neighbor or their lifestyle, whatever the circumstances, don’t look the other way, don’t turn your TV up to drown out the screaming and don’t say it’s none of my business, call 911, you could save someone’s life.
Lastly, to Heather, I miss my best friend, you were my heart. Even though you are gone, I think of you every day and I have my memories that will last forever."
Clauer could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Read trial coverage here: