Wife Takes Stand Against Husband in Hot Car Case
Jeanette Darnley, testifying for the prosecution Wednesday in the case against her husband, Stephen Clemens, said her 9-year-old son was sweating, crying and appeared to be scared after he was found on July 17 locked inside Clemens’ car at The Highlands.
Clemens, 25, and Darnley, 28, each were charged with child neglect creating risk of injury or death and entering without breaking.
Prosecutors say Clemens locked the boy in the car in the Kohl’s parking lot for about 11 minutes so he and Darnley could shoplift.
Darnley accepted a plea agreement from the prosecution and pleaded guilty last week to child neglect. One condition of the plea agreement was that she testify if Clemens’ case proceeded to trial.
Darnley, who married Clemens on Oct. 31, testified she was high on prescription pills that day, but “mostly” remembers the events.
From the stand, she admitted to fraudulently returning items for store credit. She also stashed other items she intended to steal before she found out her son was with an Ohio County sheriff’s deputy outside.
Kristi Fox, Kohl’s loss prevention supervisor, called the sheriff’s department after she watched on one of the 27 security cameras as Darnley returned the shoplifted merchandise.
Fox acknowledged, however, that Clemens did not shoplift from the store.
Paul Buzzard, who was at the store that day with his wife, saw Darnley’s son inside the car and alerted Deputy Rich White. Buzzard testified it was a “very hot” day, and the asphalt in the parking lot was radiating heat.
“I wouldn’t leave my dog or my cat in the car like that,” Buzzard said, “let alone one of my kids or grandkids.”
Darnley’s son, who admitted he was “scared” as he sat in the witness stand Wednesday, recounted Clemens taking him to the parking lot and locking him inside the car because he was misbehaving inside the store. The front passenger side window was partially opened.
The boy said he remained in the car partly because his step-father told him to do so, but also because he was afraid he would be kidnapped.
He also explained how to unlock the car doors.
“I could leave,” the boy said. “I could get out of the car if I wanted to, but I wasn’t allowed to.”
Dr. Matthew Morris, a local pediatrician, said the temperature inside the car that day could have reached around 110-115 degrees. The boy suffers from asthma, and Morris said heat can exacerbate the condition and trigger an attack.
Clemens’ attorney, Public Defender Keith Hart, pointed out that after the boy sat in White’s air-conditioned cruiser for about five minutes, the deputy put him back in Clemens’ car while he interviewed Darnley.
Jurors will resume hearing testimony at 9 a.m. today, with White taking the stand in Judge James Mazzone’s courtroom.