ASHTABULA, Ohio – A man accused of beating his wife to death will plead innocent by reason of insanity in a case that has captured regional attention because of its connection to a controversial church, the man’s lawyer said.
“We’ll enter a plea of insanity,” attorney Hobart Shiflet said of his client, Ralph E. Clark, 43, of Ashtabula.
Police said Clark on May 7 beat his estranged wife, 43-year-old Carolyn Clark, in the head with the stock of a rifle in front of the youngest five of their 13 children.
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After her death, news spread about legal papers Carolyn Clark filed in a custody dispute she won a few days before she died, accusing leaders of the couple’s church of sexual and physical abuse against members, including children. Clark said she was trying to get her young children away from the church, which she accused of brainwashing her husband and older children.
Prosecutors began investigating whether the Apostolic Church Body of Jesus Christ of the Newborn Assembly had any role in her death. Social service officials are looking into the abuse allegations. The church has denied wrongdoing.
Shiflet said he intended to file motions to request competency and sanity evaluations for Clark to evaluate whether he could assist in his own defense and understand what is happening in court. Clark will enter a plea once those evaluations are complete.
Shiflet also asked on Tuesday that the trial be moved, saying intense media attention on the church and the case had jeopardized Clark’s chance for a fair trial in Ashtabula County.
Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Vettel did not immediately rule.
Clark is charged with aggravated murder, which could result in life in prison without parole, if convicted. He is being held in the county jail on a $2 million cash bond.
Clark’s trial was scheduled to begin July 26. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for the day before.
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