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Suspect's son has admitted Little Rock slaying, defense tells court

by John Lynch | January 13, 2021 at 6:39 a.m.

The lawyer for a Little Rock man accused of beating his wife to death on Labor Day 2018 said the couple's only son has confessed to killing her, an accusation that prosecutors disputed at a Tuesday court hearing.

"[The son] revealed he was directly involved in the killing of his mother," defense attorney Patrick Benca told Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson as he called on the judge to reduce 60-year-old Timothy Benjamin Clevenger's $500,000 bail after just more than two years behind bars.

Clevenger, charged with capital murder, was arrested about three weeks after police found 56-year-old Margaret "Meg" Clevenger fatally injured in the couple's home of almost 30 years, a two-story, 1,900-square-foot residence on Old Forge Court in the Ludington Heights subdivision a couple of blocks west of Reservoir Road and the city's Reservoir Park.

The judge reduced Clevenger's bail to $200,000, conditioned on electronic monitoring and a 24-hour curfew, with Benca's personal guarantee that Clevenger would make every court appearance if he can make bail.

The remark -- "I had my mother killed" -- by 27-year-old Matthew Clevenger was made at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and disclosed to authorities by another attendee. Benca said Clevenger prefaced the statement by inquiring about whether whatever he said at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting would remain confidential. Benca told the judge police never bothered to investigate the statement, describing it as a "confession."

[RELATED: Click here for interactive map + full coverage of crime in Little Rock » arkansasonline.com/lrcrime/]

"There was no investigation. He was called in and questioned and denied making the statement," Benca told the judge. "His son went into an AA meeting and confessed."

Senior deputy prosecutor Jeanna Sherrill opposed the bail reduction.

She told the judge that Benca had taken the remark out of context. She said the statement came at a point in the meeting when attendees were asked to disclose what has happened in their lives since they last attended a meeting. Sherrill said Clevenger did not remember making that remark and that out of 75 attendees at the meeting, only one was concerned enough to go to police. Neither side said when or where the meeting took place.

"Everything pointed to the defendant and no one else," Sherrill told the judge.

Meg Clevenger had been beaten so severely the mother of three suffered skull, rib and facial fractures with bruising and cuts to her face and head, Sherrill said. Meg Clevenger had "defensive wounds" on her arms and hands from trying to protect herself, the prosecutor said. Police ruled out robbery because she was still wearing a ring and a diamond necklace, and investigators found no signs of forced entry.

Sherrill said police found signs that someone had tried to clean up after the beating, most notably Meg Clevenger's blood was found in the second-floor master bathroom while Timothy Clevenger's blood was found on a nearby bedroom doorknob. Detectives noted he had fresh bruises and a cut on his knuckles, the prosecutor said.

Clevenger said he was at the gym when his wife was attacked but "lied" about the route he'd driven to get there, Sherrill said, citing video evidence obtained by police. He'd also changed his shirt after leaving the gym, and police have never been able to find the garment.

Meg Clevenger's therapist told investigators the couple's marriage was "broken," and investigators have evidence of the couple's financial situation was dire, the prosecutor said.

Timothy Clevenger is innocent, Benca told the judge. Clevenger made misstatements during questioning because police browbeat him, while the blood attributed to him is a mark smaller than a fingertip, found only after a week-long search of the residence, he told the judge. In an earlier hearing, Benca contended that Meg Clevenger was actually killed in an accidental fall down the stairs and that police rushed to judgment against Timothy Clevenger, but the attorney did not take up that argument at Tuesday's hearing.

Benca also asked the judge to consider Clevenger's health, saying his client is not doing well in jail. Benca drew the judge's attention to Clevenger's appearance. In his 27 months in custody, the once-clean shaven man has grown a chest-long beard while his hair is now bushy, gray and shoulder length.

Benca said the covid pandemic has kept him from meeting with Clevenger face-to-face for a year, and that he needs to be able to consult directly with him to prepare for Clevenger's trial, now tentatively scheduled for March.

There is trial preparation he can do only with Clevenger's direct participation, Benca said. He told the judge that even though his own family is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, he's had a special office space constructed for him to consult with Clevenger.

"I'm putting my reputation on the line for this man," Benca said.

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