NEW CUMBERLAND - Adam McCloud, charged in the death of his girlfriend in Chester two years ago, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, according to Hancock County Circuit Court records.
McCloud, 35, formerly of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was sentenced to life in prison "with mercy," meaning he will be eligible for parole in 15 years. Circuit Court Judge Martin J. Gaughan gave McCloud credit for the 716 days he served at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.
The sentencing this week came as a result of a plea agreement reached with the Hancock County Prosecutor's Office.
McCloud was charged in the killing of Sara Jean Williams, 37, on Jan. 26, 2012, at their rented Phaeton Avenue home. An autopsy said Williams, a mother of two and a special education aide at Allison Elementary School, died of strangulation and blunt force injuries to the head.
Chester police officers and first-responders found Williams and McCloud's semiconscious body in the basement after responding to reports of a natural gas odor coming from the home. Firefighters found all four stove burners on but not lit.
McCloud was taken to East Liverpool City Hospital, where he spent the next month. Upon his release, he was charged with murder and attempted arson. A Hancock County grand jury indicted him on those charges in April 2012, but the case languished in the courts until now.
"It was over two years, so it was nice to at least have some action on it. I'm happy it's over," said Craig Williams, 39, of Wellsville, Sara's ex-husband. "I'm not really worried about him getting parole. I was a little disappointed, but it was a lot better than the original plea."
Craig and Sara Williams were married for 16 years and got a divorce in early 2012. They had two children together.
Sara Williams met McCloud at an in-patient treatment center in Cleveland, and they started sharing a home in Chester in July 2011. Although both were involved in 12-step fellowships, they had a difficult time staying sober, according to Chester police investigative reports filed in Circuit Court.
The couple was talking about separating in January 2012, and McCloud had started moving his things out by the time of the murder, court records said.
Williams was buried in Yellow Creek Cemetery after a funeral service on Feb. 4, 2012.
Williams' ex-mother-in-law, Karen Williams, of Wellsville, said in a statement read to the judge that "her life and all of our lives changed - and not for the best. ... In one night of rage and drugs, (McCloud) brutally murdered her, and it has affected so many lives. ... I only hope that Adam McCloud has asked for forgiveness from God above for his actions."
Saying that the chances of McCloud ever seeing the outside of a prison are remote, Craig Williams added, "I think cases like this are a perfect example of why the death penalty should be legal in West Virginia."
McCloud, represented by Weirton public defender F. William Brogan Jr. and New Cumberland attorney James T. Carey, signed a seven-page colloquy in which he waived his right to a jury trial and other constitutional rights.
In exchange for the guilty plea, the court dismissed the attempted arson charge with prejudice. McCloud also must pay court costs.
It may be a while, though, before he is remanded to the custody of the West Virginia Division of Corrections. Overcrowding in state prisons means that prisoners often have to wait a long time before a bed opens up.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)