When Ashley Gaw dropped her mother Angela Clear off at her Cherry Hill Manor flat around 6.30pm on March 23, she thought the 51-year-old was in safe hands.
Gaw remembers kissing Clear on the forehead, moments before his mother left for the apartment building with longtime friend Jerry Clinton Harston, who Gaw said had been with his mother for about a week.
“When (Harston) arrived, I felt relief. I trusted him with my mother,” Gaw said at Harston’s preliminary hearing on Friday, acknowledging that his mother was in poor health after suffering a stroke in September 2021. “I knew she was in good hands.”
Gaw was one of three witnesses called Friday by Calhoun County District Attorney David Gilbert as he presented his case against Harston, 50, who is charged with open murder in Clear’s death.
Clear’s body was found inside her apartment at 10 Clay St. on March 26 after Gaw called for a welfare check.
Following Gaw’s testimony, Battle Creek Police Officer Hunter Barnett and Detective Brandin Huggett, Calhoun County District Judge Tracie Tomak ordered that Harston’s case be returned to the County Circuit Court of Calhoun to stand trial there.
Harston faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of first degree murder. A trial date has not been set. Harston remains in the Calhoun County Jail, being held without bond.
Gaw told the court on Friday that she spoke to her mother every day and cared for the woman frequently as her health declined following a stroke.
Gaw said her mother “needed help with everything”, including going to the bathroom. Despite numerous attempts to convince the 51-year-old to move in with relatives, Clear refused, choosing to live alone. She moved into the Cherry Hill Manor apartment in November 2021, Gaw said.
Gaw told the court she assumed her mother was sleeping or her phone was dead after not hearing from her on March 24. Two days later, after still not hearing from her mother or Harston, Gaw went to the apartment and knocked on the phone. door locked for 15-20 minutes with no response.
Looking under the apartment door, Gaw could see his mother’s dog. She also noticed her mother’s wheelchair parked in the kitchen, which she said was unusual, since her mother relied on the wheelchair to get around.
That’s when Gaw called the police.
Barnett said he received a call to verify the residence at 10 Clay Street. After another officer was able to pick the lock on the apartment door, Barnett entered the house to find Clear’s dog frantically scratching at the door.
Barnett told the court that after briefly searching the living room and kitchen, he turned to find a bungee cord wrapped around the bedroom and bathroom door handles, both of which were closed.
“I thought it was unusual,” he said. “I noticed it was on and started unlocking it. When I pulled it off the doorknob, the bedroom door opened as if it was on.”
Barnett said inside the bedroom he could see an arm hanging from the bed with what appeared to be blood nearby, with the majority of a body covered in a pink sheet. Barnett pulled back the sheet to find Clear’s body.
An autopsy revealed that Clear had suffered 13 “acute injuries”, particularly in the neck area. In her report, pathologist Dr. Elizabeth Douglas concluded that Clear’s cause of death was homicide due to these injuries.
Huggett told the court that Harston contacted the 911 dispatch in Mecosta County on March 27 and told them he was wanted for murder in Battle Creek. An audio recording of Harston’s call with the dispatchers was entered into evidence.
Huggett testified that when he met Harston in Mecosta County hours later that same day, he noticed blood on the man’s hands. A large Bowie knife in Harston’s possession also had dried blood on it, he said.
Clear’s vehicle, a blue 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera, was recovered from a wooded area in Newaygo County. Huggett told the court the license plate was removed from the car and recovered from a ditch about 50 yards away.
Contact reporter Greyson Steele at [email protected] or 269-501-5661. Follow him on Twitter: G_SteeleBC