Four young men and women, who authorities say suffer from profound psychiatric problems, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court in Hartford to working together to kill a teenage runaway and stuff her body into a cardboard box after an argument during a Monopoly game.
Because of their mental illnesses, the state reduced the original murder charges to manslaughter. According to a plea agreement, Michael Davis, 22, and Darzell Weinstein, 19, will receive sentences of 25 years, suspended after 18 years, and five years of probation. Tiara Dixon, 19, and Leslie Caraballo, 19, are expected to receive 20-year sentences, suspended after 12 years, and five years of probation.
A fight ensued, and police say Dixon and Caraballo kicked and beat up Clouse-Desmond. Then they held her down while Davis and Weinstein pulled a plastic bag over her head, police said. Davis tried to choke the life out of the teenager, police said. When she did not die, Weinstein jumped on her chest, police said.
A day later, Hartford police found Clouse-Desmond's severely beaten body in a microwave oven box in a closet in the apartment. Clouse-Desmond died of asphyxiation, the chief state medical examiner said.
All four took responsibility for their part in the slaying during the plea hearing Wednesday. Each pleaded guilty to one count of accessory to commit first-degree manslaughter. Davis and Weinstein also shared the blame for tampering with evidence.
Prosecutor John Fahey said Wednesday that Davis and Weinstein plotted to get rid of the body after the killing. The two used a metal instrument to make it seem as if Clouse-Desmond had been raped. They poured bleach and detergent on her body before stuffing it into a cardboard box. Then they put the box inside a closet.
All of the defendants and the victim had had some contact with state mental health services and at some point had been in state centers for troubled children, officials have said. Some, like Clouse-Desmond, were on the run from programs designed to help them, while others were clearly teetering on the brink of being out of control, the officials said.
Tiara Dixon has a long history of violence. She had told staff at a state treatment center in East Windsor, where she was discharged several weeks before the slaying, that she had trouble controlling her temper and might hurt someone, sources close to the investigation said.
Weinstein, who was Dixon's boyfriend, also had anger and aggression problems, sources said. He was a patient at Cedarcrest when he and fellow patient Clouse-Desmond fled the psychiatric hospital April 22 with several others.
Davis' apartment, which he shared with Caraballo, was leased by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services as part of a state-supported independent living program for its clients.
Their sentencing is scheduled for April 4.