by Joe Murphy


Akron -- Willard S. McCarley showed no emotion the afternoon of Jan. 25 when, for the second time, a jury found him guilty of aggravated murder in the 1992 death of Twinsburg Township resident Charlene Puffenbarger.

The verdict, in the courtroom of Summit County Court of Common Pleas Judge Marvin Shapiro, came after about two days of jury deliberation.

There was restrained celebration from members of Puffenbarger's family as the verdict was read.

"I just want to thank God first that justice has finally been served," said Charlene's mother, Phyllis Puffenbarger. "Charlene can rest in peace. [McCarley] is back where he belonged."

McCarley's defense attorneys Ron Gatts and Larry Whitney declined comment until after the sentencing, which was scheduled for Jan. 26 in Shapiro's courtroom. McCarley could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to the Summit County Prosecutor's Office.

Closing arguments took place Jan. 23 in McCarley's weeklong trial, the second trial the 43-year-old faced in conjunction with Puffenbarger's death.

The Northfield resident was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of aggravated murder in Puffenbarger's death by a jury in 2005. However, the Ninth District Court of Appeals overturned the conviction because of a comment Shapiro made to a witness, and last March the court granted McCarley a new trial.

Puffenbarger, 26, was found beaten and strangled in her apartment on Jan. 20, 1992. The coroner ruled her death as "homicide by suffocation."

Throughout the second trial, which began Jan. 16, the defense argued that there was no empirical evidence that definitively pointed to McCarley as the killer.

Assistant Summit County Prosecutors Michael Carroll and Jay Cole, who called a total of 23 witnesses, argued throughout the trial that McCarley's attempts to avoid paying child support was his motivation to kill Puffenbarger.

According to the Summit County Sheriff's Office, DNA testing has proved that McCarley is the father of one of Charlene's two sons.

The trial saw Shapiro reject the defense's request for a second mistrial, after an emotional outburst from a prosecution witness who claimed she heard McCarley in Puffenbarger's apartment around the time of the murder.

Prosecutors could not be reached for comment following the verdict.

Editor's note: Murphy is a reporter for the Twinsburg Bulletin.


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