Continued coverage— Plea deal in stabbing death
- Published: August 19, 2021
A Yellow Springs native accused in the stabbing death of Leonid “Lonya” Clark has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter as part of a plea deal with the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office. Zyrian Atha-Arnett, who goes by the shorter last name Arnett, pleaded guilty also to separate charges of abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence related to the Jan. 13, 2019, killing of his friend and former classmate.
Atha-Arnett, 28, entered his guilty pleas during a hearing Wednesday, July 21, in the Xenia courtroom of Greene County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Buckwalter. He was represented by Dayton-based criminal attorney Jon Paul Rion.
The defendant, who grew up in Yellow Springs and attended YS schools, was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felonious assault, a fourth-degree felony.
The murder charges carried possible sentences of 15 years each, and the assault charge sentence was unspecified. He has remained behind bars at the Greene County Jail since his arrest on Nov. 8, 2019.
In a sentencing hearing that immediately followed last week’s plea hearing, Judge Buckwalter set terms of 11 years on the involuntary manslaughter charge, 36 months for abuse of a corpse and 12 months for tampering with evidence, to be served consecutively for a total of 15 years. He also ordered a restitution payment of $2,000.
Also last week, as part of the plea deal, Atha-Arnett pleaded guilty to child pornography charges unrelated to the Clark case. According to the prosecutor’s office, illegal images were discovered on Atha-Arnett’s computer during the homicide investigation. Originally charged in April of this year with 25 counts of child porn, Atha-Arnett entered guilty pleas on 10 of the counts; the court dismissed the other 15. Buckwalter set a sentence of 18 months on each of the 10, to be served concurrently, for a total of 18 months. That 18 months is to be served concurrently with the 15 years tied to Clark’s death, according to the judge’s ruling.
The judge also ruled that Atha-Arnett will be listed as a Tier II sex offender, and once he’s served his prison time, will be required to check in with the county authorities of his residence every 180 days for 25 years following his release.
As part of the plea deal, Atha-Arnett also waived the right to appeal his sentence in both cases.
In the courtroom Wednesday were Atha-Arnett’s parents and two friends of the family as well as a network of Clark family members and friends. Also present were representatives of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which worked together in pursuing the case.
Victim impact statements were entered into the record on behalf of several of Clark’s relatives. His stepmother, Jackie Clark, spoke directly to Atha-Arnett in an emotional address. “How could you hurt him? How could you hurt your friend? How could you run away and leave him there?” she asked.
The statement from Lonya’s father, Eric Clark, read to the court by Assistant Prosecutor Bill Morrison, noted Lonya’s many relationships within the village, where he was widely known and cherished, so much so that the Presbyterian Church was filled to overflowing for his celebration of life service. The father also noted that Lonya had mental health struggles that led to a semi-homeless lifestyle, but that he still had a positive effect on those he met.
Both parents expressed the devastation caused by Lonya’s killing, which occurred on his younger sister’s birthday.
Lonya Clark’s body was found April 12, 2019, in Glen Helen Nature Preserve, along the Little Miami River near the Grinnell Road bridge, almost three months to the day he was last reportedly seen alive, which turned out to be the day of his death, Jan.13. The coroner’s office ruled the cause of death as multiple stab wounds to his head and neck.
According to court records filed at the time of his indictment, multiple sources reported that Atha-Arnett sustained a serious cut to one of his hands on Jan. 13 and sought medical care for the injury three days later. His explanation for the cut reportedly changed several times.
Court records also show communication between Atha-Arnett and Clark that indicated plans to meet Jan. 13. A total of 49 calls and texts between the two were logged from Dec. 24, 2018, through Jan. 13, but their communication ceased after the 13th. Also according to the investigators’ documents, phone location technology indicated that Atha-Arnett stopped on the evening of Jan. 13 for more than 90 minutes near the spot where Clark’s body was later found, and that he returned to the location 37 times between Jan. 14 and April 30.
Given a chance by Judge Buckwalter to make a statement for the record, Atha-Arnett declined, but his attorney, Rion, spoke, saying, “Mr. Arnett acknowledges this tragic situation. He knew the victim in this case from a very early age, and he’s trying to take some steps, this first step, for the healing process to begin.”
Reached by phone this week, the victim’s father said Lonya’s family came to feel that the plea deal arrangement was probably the best outcome they could expect. The future safety of his family had been Clark’s biggest concern.
“Even after the 15 years [of incarceration], he’s still going to be more or less on community control for 25 years.”
Another concern for the family was getting answers to their many questions, which without a trial might not be addressed. They asked that the plea deal include a chance for Eric Clark to meet one-on-one with Atha-Arnett for an hour.
The defense agreed, and the meeting took place in the courthouse second-floor jury room immediately after last week’s sentencing hearing.
Clark said they were joined in the room by Jackie Clark, defense attorney Rion, several members of the prosecutor’s office and a sheriff’s deputy.
While Atha-Arnett had remained relatively stoic during the plea and sentencing hearings, he cried throughout the meeting with Clark, Eric Clark said. But Lonya’s father said he didn’t learn much from the interview.
He said Atha-Arnett contends that Lonya was exhibiting signs of his mental illness, saying things that didn’t make sense to Atha-Arnett and ultimately angered him. The two got into an argument that escalated into a fight.
“Zyrian had a weapon; Lonya didn’t,” Eric Clark said.
Still, Clark didn’t learn what “the trigger” was that led the larger Atha-Arnett into such a rage to inflict multiple, fatal stab wounds.
Clark said he doesn’t think Atha-Arnett knows either.
“We still have lots of unanswered questions,” Clark said, such as how did Lonya Clark’s debit card end up on the Antioch College campus, where it was found while he was still thought to be missing; and who put his coat, freshly laundered and neatly folded, under some stacked furniture in the Clark’s car port during that same time period? Atha-Arnett didn’t have those answers.
“He kept saying that he wished [Lonya] was alive,” Clark said.
“We’ll likely never know the whole story,” he said. “I’m not sure if I want to.”
The knowledge he’s left with is awareness of the pain and trauma experienced not only by his family and his son’s many friends, but also by the Arnett family.
“You’ve got to feel bad for all the people involved,” he said.