Woman found guilty in 2000 murder of property manager seeking to have conviction overturned

Crime Watch

Susan Clevenger

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A woman found guilty of murder in the 2000 death of local property manager Bradley St. Clair is seeking to have her conviction overturned due to a change in state law.

Susan Clevenger, 45, did not appear in court Tuesday, where attorneys agreed to a Jan. 23 hearing to discuss her case.

Clevenger and her former boyfriend, Keith Shell, 51, are serving life without parole for the death of St. Clair, who was bound and gagged with duct tape, and strangled with his necktie.

Clevenger can have her murder conviction reviewed since she was convicted under California’s felony murder rule, which was amended last year.

The law previously allowed defendants to be found guilty of murder in cases where they weren’t the actual killer but participated in a dangerous felony, such as robbery or kidnapping, that resulted in death. 

On Jan. 1, the law changed so that a person now has to actually commit or aid in a killing, or have the intent to kill, during the commission of a crime in order to be charged with murder.

If a person didn’t aid in the killing, they can only be prosecuted for the underlying crime, whether it’s kidnapping, carjacking or another serious offense.

Clevenger, St. Clair’s secretary, plotted with Shell to kidnap St. Clair and hold him for ransom. The plan failed when an alarm system in St. Clair’s office went off.

A struggle ensued during which St. Clair was killed. Shell’s fingerprints and palm prints were found on the duct tape used to bind him.

At least two of Clevenger’s siblings said she had discussed a plan to kidnap a St. Clair family member. She admitted to asking her brother, at Shell’s request, to participate in the kidnapping. Her brother refused.

In an appellate court ruling early this year, the court found there was no evidence Clevenger intended for St. Clair to be killed. Additionally, she wasn’t present when the killing occurred.

The state Attorney General’s office, however, said Shell was unemployed and desperate for money, and Clevenger knew he “would have done anything” to kidnap St. Clair and avoid being caught.

Even if Clevenger’s murder conviction is overturned, she’ll continue to serve a life sentence for a conviction of kidnapping for ransom.

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