Anthony Williams said his murdered sister had to be buried with her hands in front of her.
“I had to buy a bouquet to put in her hands because they would not go down,” he said. “I’ve been tortured by that since.”
It was appropriate, though. Williams and other family members describe his sister as a bouquet of the community.
On Thursday after a three-day trial, her killer was sentenced to never see the outside of a prison again.
Circuit Court Judge Jack Early sentenced Cleophus Edwards, a Florida native and college dropout, to life in prison on charges of murder and first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to five years on a weapons charge.
“Mr. Edwards, the jury has spoken, the evidence is overwhelming,” Early said, cutting short Edwards’ court address that he was trying to help police when he confessed multiple times.
“I’ve been practicing 30 years and I have never seen evidence so overwhelming,” Early said.
Edwards was charged with entering the Goff Avenue home of 44-year-old Carolynne “Janese” Hanton before stabbing her 55 times.
The day care worker was found within hours of her death on Feb. 3, 2011 laying face down. Her arms were in a position that made it appear she was trying to push herself back up.
Prosecutors say she probably tried to fend off her attacker to protect the four children in the home at the time.
Jurors spent just over three hours deciding whether Edwards’ videotaped confession and written statement were the truth.
Prosecutors introduced evidence that indicated Edwards went into the residence after seeing a vehicle leave. He was confronted by Hanton.
“‘As I walked in, a lady saw me and screamed. I backed up to the door. I was trembling, I was scared,’” prosecutor Don Sorenson said, reading from Edwards’ statement to police. “Cleophus Edwards’ own words. It’s almost unfathomable to me that he has the nerve to talk about fear.”
During his closing argument, Sorenson said that fear was a 44-year-old woman in the comfort of her home being confronted by a man with a large kitchen knife.
“Fear is being stabbed over, and over and over,” he said.
“He talks about hearing children crying,” Sorenson said, himself on the verge of an emotional moment. “I submit to you that is the last thing she heard as she took her dying breath.”
Edwards was identified as a suspect when officers served a probation violation warrant on him and spotted a laptop stolen from Hanton’s home. Prosecutors called it an “amazing twist of fate” that Edwards had his girlfriend get it back from a pawn shop two days before police arrived.
Officers also had a videotaped confession made the night Edwards was taken into custody. A written statement was given the following day.
However, defense attorney Mark Wise told jurors that the confessions could have been coerced or even coached. Details in the confession could have been timed with the discovery of evidence in the field. Wise said Edwards was in custody for nearly a day before anything was recorded.
“They spent all that time working on him and all they record is 15 minutes?” Wise said. “What’s happening is they need a confession.”
Wise pointed out that DNA could not definitively confirm that his client wore clothing found with Hanton’s blood.
A recovered kitchen knife, jeans, jacket and a pair of shoes with Hanton’s DNA were “absolutely worthless,” Wise said.
“They never even considered looking at anyone else,” Wise said.
Wise told the panel that the investigation failed, the state’s case failed and the jury should be concerned.
“And I think that’s what I think you should find,” he said.
Williams said he belongs to a family of teachers and professionals who are well-known in the community for helping others.
He knew the killer had to be an outsider.
“We were all born and raised on Goff Avenue,” he said.
In speaking of her sister-in-law, Caroline Williams said the family “longs for her presence, for her laughter.”
She said Hanton’s husband, Aaron Hanton, needs peace.
“He’s struggling on a daily basis for some normalcy,” she said.
When court was adjourned, Early called Aaron Hanton forward. The judge met him at the side, shook his hands and offered a few words in private.
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