Gone In 50 Seconds

Two young men loved the same girl. But only the soldier was trained to kill.

Shaun Cleland Christina Cleland David Heinricht
His flight didn't leave for several hours, but just after midnight on October 2, 2005, Shaun Cleland filled his rental car with gas and headed for the airport.

If he needed a place to stay -- a couch or floor to crash on, even for a few hours -- he could have called someone. His dad in Brook Park. His mom in Akron. His baby brother in Lodi. His older sister, Brandy, out in Rittman. That way he could see his little niece and spoil her rotten, as always.

That's what Uncle Shaun liked to do when he came home from the army. But in the small hours of this autumn morning, none of them knew he was back in Ohio. And he wasn't going to call them now. Not after midnight. Not after the day he'd just had.

So he drove to the airport and waited. To pass the time, he did one of the things he did well: make his girlfriend smile. Jessica was 3,000 miles west, on vacation in Alaska. But she was only a text message away.

"I wonder where ull get ur gown," he wrote, teasing her about the wedding they sometimes joked about.

"U been drinking?" Jessica fired back. "Ur divorce is just minor problem . . . winkwink."

"I havent been drinking just thinking of u," he told her. "Just missing u."

Then, as the clock neared 5 a.m., Shaun approached the ticket counter. He was ready to go back to his base in Hawaii, where he was working to become a medic. It might not be a pleasant return: He'd left the island without permission that weekend. But he'd been gone less than 48 hours. Maybe no one missed him.

Shaun handed the ticket agent his ID: Shaun Martin Cleland. 5 foot 11, 195 pounds. 25 years old. She examined it, matched his name and photo, and motioned to waiting police officers, who calmly approached and placed handcuffs around Shaun's wrists.

They drove south -- down I-71 into Brunswick, past the apartments where Shaun had spent much of his brief trip. He sat in the back and didn't say a word. Just closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.

For David Heinricht, October 1 began late. He didn't awake until 11 a.m., a luxury afforded by his new job at Starbucks, where he wasn't scheduled to work until 7. The coffee shop, in a bustling Brunswick strip mall, was just a 10-minute walk from his apartment.

David awoke next to a mane of auburn hair; it belonged to a striking young woman named Christina. His . . . girlfriend? Yes. But some of his friends weren't sure how serious they were. He didn't always introduce her as his girlfriend. At least, not to everyone.

This was understandable. She was married.

But her husband was thousands of miles away, stationed in Hawaii with the army, with a divorce in the making.

Yes. His girlfriend.

They stayed in bed past noon that day, doing what new couples tend to do. They had met months before as neighbors, on this very floor of this very building. Christina had lived there with her husband. But after he left for Hawaii that August, she removed her husband's name from the lease. A week later, David's roommate moved out. On September 1, he and Christina, 19 and 21, respectively, moved in together. In the beginning, it was a way to save money on rent. It quickly evolved into more.

They climbed out of bed at 12:30. David fired up his PlayStation 2. Still seven hours until work. For a young man, it was shaping up to be a fine day.

Christina drew a bath and made herself breakfast. It was her last day as a bartender at Johnny's Grille & Pub, a small restaurant in Brunswick. She got ready to leave, hoping to squeeze in a trip to the tanning salon before work. But before she said goodbye, around 2:20 p.m., David stopped his game, and they did what new couples tend to do a second time.

Christina finally left around 2:45, leaving David alone with his videogames.

Until the buzzer rang a while later, telling David there was a visitor downstairs, it was shaping up to be a very fine day indeed.

A Chevy Cobalt would do fine.

After touching down in Cleveland around noon, Shaun Cleland approached the counter at Alamo Rental Car and was greeted by Monica Tokic, a 24-year-old clerk. Though she waited on dozens of customers that day, she would remember Shaun -- the dark T-shirt over his tall, beefy frame, the cap pulled low over his closely shaved head, the odd lack of luggage.

Shaun told Monica that he had "a fucking reservation," and he didn't "give a fuck" what company it was with. He just needed a car. Pronto. He was, it seemed to Monica, in a hurry, and in no mood to chat with a friendly Alamo agent. She rented him a Chevy Cobalt and sent him on his way.

His ride secured, Shaun called his younger brother, Joe. Had Joe known his big brother was flying in that day, he would have looked for the call. Had he not been driving around in a noisy work truck -- too noisy to hear his phone ring -- he would have picked up on the first ring. Anything for his big brother.

After all, it was Shaun who had toted baby Joe around their Brook Park house years before. Later, when their parents went through a devastating divorce and Joe sought refuge with his friends, it was Shaun who labored to keep the family tight. He might bust out a silly dance move from nowhere, or just lie down next to Mom. Whatever it took.

"That was his job in life," older sister Brandy recalls. "He always made everybody laugh." Or, as Joe puts it: "He was always the one that tried to make us feel better when we were down." Even after he enlisted in the army.

Shaun had been talking about the military for years, inspired by his dad and uncle, both ex-soldiers. After finishing Cloverleaf High School in Seville, Shaun enlisted in the army and was shipped to Hawaii, where he drove an armed Humvee. A few years later, he came home and joined the National Guard and was shipped to Italy, where he worked on a U.S. Air Force base. He returned in 2004 with a renewed desire to be a career soldier and reenlisted in the army. Last spring, he went to Texas to learn to be a medic. Last August, he went back to Hawaii for active duty.

Through it all, Joe loved getting Shaun's calls -- especially from Hawaii. Those were his favorites. It's paradise, Shaun would tell him. One day you'll come live with me here. Paradise.

But that October day, Joe didn't hear the phone ring. He tried to call his brother back, but Shaun never picked up. "If I would've talked to my brother," Joe would find himself saying months later. "If I would've got that call . . ."

He didn't. Instead, Shaun drove his Cobalt to Brunswick, pulling into the parking lot of his old apartment complex on Clearbrook Road. He arrived shortly before 4 p.m. and rang the buzzer to his wife's apartment, No. 121.

A man answered. The boyfriend.

Yes, Shaun and his wife were getting a divorce. And, yes, Shaun had tried to move on. That July, he'd met a sweet young woman in San Antonio, where they were both training to become medics. Her name was Jessica Guzzetti. Just 19, she had the focus of a woman years older. After Shaun shipped off to Hawaii and Jessica headed home to Idaho, they kept in contact daily, calling and text messaging. They even talked about marriage.

But . . . his wife. He still called her, still talked about reconciling. He asked her to come to Hawaii. Yes, there was Jessica. But Jessica was thousands of miles away, and soon would be even farther, in Afghanistan, where she was hoping to be deployed. "He was afraid of being alone," sister Brandy explains. And in Hawaii, without his wife or girlfriend, he was.

Shaun spoke into the intercom, asked his wife's new boyfriend if he could come up to the apartment. There was a tattoo kit up there he needed, Shaun said.

The voice over the intercom said no. Shaun called Christina's cell phone. She assumed he was in Hawaii, so he told her that his friend was at her apartment, trying to pick up his tattoo kit.

Can you please call your boyfriend and tell him to let my friend in?

No, Christina told him.

Soon after, a Brunswick cop showed up, asking Shaun to please get in his car and leave.

Just to be safe, David had his father drive him to work that evening. From his apartment window, he had recognized the man ringing his buzzer that afternoon: Christina's husband, Shaun. What was he doing home from Hawaii?

In the car with his father, David may have recalled that Shaun had once trained in mixed-martial arts, even had thoughts of trying Ultimate Fighting. Perhaps he did the math, figuring out that Shaun outweighed him by a good 50 pounds.

A ride to work. Just to be safe.

David walked into Starbucks and was greeted with jubilation, as always. As always, he returned the favor, "bouncing in like nothing was going on," one co-worker would later recall.

He'd been working there for only six months. But in that short time, the baristas had seen a change come over their new hire.

He had arrived tentative and quiet, with long, straight hair that fell past his shoulders and a wardrobe of baggy pants and rock T-shirts. This was the persona he had constructed over his 19 years, most of which were spent in tiny Sullivan, where David was raised and schooled by his mother. It wasn't until David moved to Medina County, says his father, that David "opened his eyes beyond his own little five acres" in rural Ashland County.

It started with Starbucks, where his fellow baristas slowly worked him out of his teenaged shell. Before long, he was singing behind the counter or stepping out to dance with his co-workers. He mastered every drink, adding some Tom Cruise-in-Cocktail flare. He began getting requests from customers: Can David make my drink?

It was a happy place to work. They often played cards together after the close, sitting out on the patio. It was there -- and everywhere else, really -- that the ladies of Starbucks relentlessly prodded him to cut his rocker hair.

I've been growing it out forever, he told them.

But you'll look so cute! they replied.

The cute card won, of course. An older barista, Lorie Walker, who had two young sons and treated David like a third, drove him to a salon and implored her stylist to lop off his flowing locks. She did, leaving him with short, trendy waves. His haircut was big news at Starbucks. Suddenly, Can David make my drink? took on an entirely different meaning and had little to do with his killer lattes.

After his dad dropped him off, David slipped on his apron and took his post behind the bar. He wasn't exactly himself; when Jason Troutman, another barista, asked David how his day had been, he gave a so-so answer. His girlfriend's husband had been harassing him that afternoon, he told Jason. He'd even had to call police.

David's shift ended around 11:30 p.m. It was warm out. As always, he stood on the patio for a bit, chatting with co-workers.

We're going to grab some food, they told David. Wanna come?

Shaun left his old apartment complex, climbed into his Cobalt, and drove. He'd been in town for just a few hours, but time was running short. In another 12 hours, he'd be on his way back to the airport.

Around 4:45, he pulled into the parking lot of Johnny's Grille. He took a seat at the bar and waited for his wife to notice him.

She asked him what he was doing in town, what he was doing at her work. He ordered a 20-ounce Bud Light and told her that he loved her. That's why he came, he said. He wanted to be spontaneous, to prove that he didn't want it to end.

They'd been through a lot together. They'd met when she was just 18 and was living in Hawaii with family. Shaun was 20, a couple years out of high school, a couple years into his military service. Girls had always enjoyed his goofy antics, but Christina was his first serious girlfriend, as far as his family recalls. She was also his first love.

They married right there on the island, without anyone from Shaun's family there to watch.

Not long after, they moved back to Ohio. Shaun wanted to maintain his ties with the military, but didn't want to be deployed, his brother Joe recalls. So he joined the National Guard. He was shipped to Italy in 2004. Christina got pregnant, but lost the baby. Shaun flew back for a two-week leave. Don't let anyone call me, Shaun told brother Joe. I'm not here to hang out. I'm here to be with my wife.

Christina poured Shaun another beer. And another. Her co-workers watched them closely. They knew Shaun had been calling a lot; they knew Christina sometimes wished he'd leave her alone. He looked angry that night, co-worker Gregory Toorish would tell police. Like he had "the devil in his eyes."

I want a fresh start, Shaun told his wife. He asked about David. They made small talk about his job at Starbucks and when he got off that night.

Do you love him? Shaun asked.

I'm happy, Christina said.

She poured him another beer.

Not tonight, David said.

It was 11:30. There was still time for Applebee's. This was another post-work ritual for the Brunswick baristas: Slide into Applebee's just before close, munch on some appetizers, and talk.

"Come with us," urged Tammy Simak, a bubbly blonde.

"I better get home," he said. They assumed he would walk, as always, but David asked whether someone could give him a lift.

"Don't wanna get jumped," he said with a little chuckle.

Tammy volunteered, figuring he wanted to get home to Christina. David didn't talk much about their relationship. Some days, he described them as just friends. Tammy wondered how serious they were. Christina didn't come in as often as David's dad, who made an effort to get to know David's co-workers, his friends. Christina didn't.

The drive took just a minute or two.

I'll play cards tomorrow, David told her as she pulled in front of his apartment.

Tammy drove to Applebee's. As usual, she and her friends were among the last customers when they left at 12:45 a.m. Tammy walked back to her car. She was ready to go home and almost did. But first, she had to see where all those cop cars were going.

At 12:30, Christina turned in her keys to Johnny's, said goodbye to her co-workers, and headed home. It had been four hours since Shaun left the bar, and she hadn't heard from him since. David had been off work for an hour. She hadn't heard from him, either.

She sped up as she drove home, although she didn't know why. She left her things in her car and ran up the three flights of stairs to her apartment.

She unlocked the door, stepped in, and flipped on the light.

The apartment was a mess -- dishes in the sink, cigarette butts everywhere. There was a note scribbled on a dry-erase board on the fridge. "Christina you are beautiful," the note said. "I missed you today . . . I'm most likely on the futon watching tv, you need to walk around the table and kiss me now."

David was lying on the floor, near the controller to his PlayStation. His head was resting on the futon. He was still in his work clothes, khaki pants and a white button-down shirt. His pants were pulled down around his legs. They were wet. There was a broken cigarette in his right hand, a typewritten note in his left.

"I love you," the note said. It was signed "Dave."

There was a white cotton rope tied around a beam in the kitchen. It wound into the family room, over the couch, and around David's neck.

Christina lifted David up, trying to put slack in the rope. It didn't work; the knot was too tight. She found scissors and cut the rope, first above the knot, then from around David's rope-burned neck.

She pumped his chest, screaming for help. She ran down the hall, hollering for her neighbors to call the police. She ran back to David and pumped while the police and ambulances sped down Center Road, past Applebee's, and onto Clearbrook.

It was almost 1 a.m. when the paramedics arrived, taking over from Christina and the policeman. An officer escorted her downstairs, into the back of a police car. A car pulled up, and she recognized the face -- Tammy, David's friend from Starbucks. From the parking lot, you could see up into the sliding glass door above, where paramedics were pumping on David's chest. "It's David," Christina mouthed to Tammy.

Shortly after, the ambulance quietly drove away.

The police drove Shaun south from the airport, past his old apartment, down to the Brunswick Police Department. An officer walked Shaun into a small interview room. There, he was greeted by Detective Dean Weinhardt, who asked Shaun what he was doing in Ohio.

It was an impromptu trip, Shaun said. He wanted to surprise his wife, try to persuade her to move back to Hawaii. He'd seen her earlier, he said, had some beers at her bar, and talked things over. Then he drove around for a while. That was pretty much it.

You telling the truth? Weinhardt asked, though he knew Shaun wasn't. Christina had already told the cops that there was no way David had killed himself, despite the efforts to make it look that way. For one, the knot in the rope was tied with military precision; David could have never tied it, she said. And the note she found lying on his chest -- well, there was no way David wrote that either. First off, it was signed "Dave. " David always signed his name "David. " And the note, addressed to Christina, also said, "I love you." But they didn't say, "I love you." They said, "You're good to me."

I'm telling the truth, Shaun said. The detective asked why David Heinricht was lying dead on a living-room floor. Shaun acted surprised, but then hung his head. After more talk back and forth, he told the detective a new story.

Sometime after 11 p.m. that night, he climbed onto the roof of his old apartment building, he said. He dropped onto the balcony and slid open the unlocked door. He walked into the bedroom. Rummaged through a box of photographs and came across pictures of Christina -- pictures Weinhardt's report describe as "explicit." He couldn't stand it, couldn't imagine his wife sleeping with another man.

He saw rope under a bed, he said, and made it into a noose. He walked into the living room, he said. David walked through the door.

David attacked him, Shaun said, so he fought back, slipped the noose around his neck, pulled it tight. He wrapped it around a beam in the kitchen, and pulled David by his legs, tightening the noose. He didn't want to kill him, he said. He just wanted to scare him. That suicide note? That was meant to scare him, too.

Parts of his story rang true and would later be confirmed by the cops. Two neighbors later told police they saw a man walking on the apartment roof. In the bedroom, cops discovered the "explicit" photos of Christina.

But Weinhardt didn't buy Shaun's whole story. The detective offered this scenario: Shaun lay in wait for David and slyly slipped the noose around his neck. He wanted to kill David, the detective said. So he typed up a suicide note in Hawaii, planned a quick trip home, and tried to make it look as if David had killed himself.

Shaun dropped his head, burying it in his hands.

Later, Weinhardt allowed Shaun to make one phone call. He dialed a number for his father, Donald, a sergeant in the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's office. For the first time all weekend, Shaun letsomeone in his family know he was in town.

"I killed a guy," he told his dad. "I killed him."

The sentencing of Shaun Cleland was scheduled for July 7, a bright, hot Friday morning in Medina. The small, upstairs courtroom filled with slow-moving, sleepy-eyed people -- sheriff's deputies, lawyers, family and friends of David Heinricht, Shaun Cleland's dad, reporters and photographers, even a producer from ABC's Primetime. Almost last to enter, Christina Cleland took a seat behind David's father, just down the row from her former father-in-law. The clock crept past 8:30, and the room filled with the heavy silence that comes when one young life is already lost and another is about to be.

Finally, Shaun Cleland walked in, flanked by two deputies. He wore a faded orange jumpsuit and black, laceless shoes. His face was closely shaved. His hair was closely cropped, pushed into a spike with gel, as if he had gotten a fresh cut that morning.

A few months after telling his story to Weinhardt, Shaun pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and kidnapping. But in April, just as he was to be sentenced, Shaun fired his attorney and asked to withdraw his plea. He hadn't killed Heinricht after all, he told Judge James Kimbler. A man in a ski mask had. Shaun was abducted by the man, forced to watch him kill David Heinricht, and threatened not to tell anyone the truth. This was his new story.

But the judge forced Shaun to stand by his plea. So on July 7, he sat stone-faced as two lawyers argued about how many decades he should spend in prison. When afforded the opportunity to speak, he stood stoically and said only, "I am truly sorry for the death of this young man."

He showed no emotion as David's mother, Gloria Glancy, her eyes puffy and moist, addressed the court. She told the judge about her son's funeral, the biggest funeral she's ever seen. There were 17 Starbucks employees alone. They had to wait 45 minutes just to see his face, that smiling expression they would memorialize with a plaque on the coffee-shop wall.

"He was just very, very handsome," David's mom said, doing what moms do best. "Very, very good."

Then David's dad, Guy, did what dads do, making sure that Shaun knew the vengeance in his heart. "A nobody, a puny little man," he called Shaun. Go ahead and appeal, he told his son's killer. "I will always be at every court hearing."

Then, Guy pulled out a watch. He asked the court if he could please have a minute of silence. Less than a minute, actually. Just 50 seconds.

"That's how long it takes to strangle a man," Guy said. The room fell silent.

Shaun stared straight ahead. His ex-wife was a few yards behind him, but he wasn't likely to see her again. His old girlfriend, Jessica, was somewhere in Afghanistan, wondering how she fell so hard for such a hard man. He'd tried to hold onto her, even after his arrest. He wrote her from prison, told her that he had planned to propose that December. "You are everything I hoped for my whole life," he told her. "You are everything I need."

Somewhere else was Jamie, Shaun's new girlfriend -- the young woman he met through a friend in the Medina County Jail, who'd been visiting him from time to time. Soon, Shaun would be moved to a bigger prison, out in a field somewhere, where he'd stay for at least 28 years, probably many more. Maybe she'd come visit him there, too.

And maybe his little brother would come. Joe's girlfriend is pregnant, and they're thinking about naming the boy after Uncle Shaun.

Guy stared down at his watch, ticking off the seconds in his head, 50 seconds that seemed like many, many more.

"And that's David," he said.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.