SALEM — On Easter Sunday 2017, disabled and legally blind Lenardo Clement, 46, was fatally gunned down in broad daylight in Central Square, before the gun was turned on his friend, Prince Belin.
Belin was seriously injured, but was able to escape with his life. The shooting, which soon became a homicide, was brazen, said Essex Assistant District Attorney Susan Dolhun, with the two victims shot repeatedly at close range in front of many witnesses.
On Thursday, the trial began in Essex Superior Court for William Cash, the man charged with the murder of Clement, along with the non-fatal shooting of Belin and a host of other offenses, including trafficking two women for sex. Cash has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Belin has since died, but prosecutors said his death, last February at age 43, was unrelated to the shooting.
Dolhun painted Cash as a man who was driven to kill by anger that built throughout the day and feeling disrespected when he couldn’t claim a woman he felt was his property. He didn’t wake up that morning expecting to kill, she said, with the shooting stemming from a chance encounter that she said later escalated to premeditated murder.
“Lenny died for nothing,” Dolhun said. “Lenny died because William Cash was selfish. He died because William Cash wanted something he could not have.”
Clement, Belin and Belin’s girlfriend had spent the morning at church on April 16, 2017, and were walking together on Lewis Street when they first encountered Cash, who was allegedly driving down the road in his distinctive silvery tan Chrysler, according to Dolhun.
Cash blocked them in with his car. For him, it was his chance to get the woman back, Dolhun said, and it was the first of two confrontations leading up to the shooting. She said Cash was a pimp, operating out of 72 Mall St., and the woman had drawn his attention. With her attractiveness, Cash saw the potential to make a lot of money off of her and she became one of his prostitutes, Dolhun said.
The woman, a drug-addicted struggling single mother at the time, had met two prostitutes at 72 Mall St., where she later met Cash, whom she knew as “T.” Cash would use crack cocaine, free alcohol and free money to reel in the women, but would later take the “hard-earned” money they made on the streets, Dolhun said.
In addition to human trafficking charges, Cash is charged with beating another woman, a former prostitute, with a heated wire hanger when she didn’t bring back her quota. Like the late Belin’s girlfriend, that woman had also since left the streets behind, Dolhun said.
But the woman who later became involved with Belin didn’t want that lifestyle, Dolhun said, and wanted to get away from Cash. On that Sunday afternoon, the first encounter with Cash at the Lewis Street laundromat occurred 14 minutes before the 3:09 p.m. shooting.
Belin allegedly told Cash, “you can’t talk to her. She’s with us now. She wants nothing to do with you,” according to Dolhun.
“Cash’s anger keeps building up,” Dolhun said. “He wanted (her) so badly, but he could not have her. He thought she was his property.”
That’s when the murder becomes premeditated, Dolhun said. Following the confrontation, Cash drove back to his house at 12 Greenleaf Circle, left his car behind and instead took his wife’s Infiniti, turning left on Broad Street where Clement, Belin and the woman were still walking.
The three weren’t on the lookout for an Infiniti and continued to walk toward the eventual crime scene on Exchange Street. There, Cash allegedly again tries to talk to the woman, telling her to come over to him. That’s when things escalated, Dolhun said.
Belin gets into an argument with Cash, but Clement utters the line that allegedly proves to be the “tipping point” for Cash: “Can’t you just leave her alone? She wants nothing to do with you,” Clement allegedly said. That’s when Cash, feeling angry and disrespected, allegedly wanted them to pay, pointing the gun first at Clement and then at Belin, firing nine shots at close range, according to Dolhun.
Prosecutors said the fatal shooting was mostly out of view of a surveillance camera at 31 Exchange St., but Cash is allegedly seen coming into view, raising his gun and firing. His broken prescription inhaler was also allegedly recovered at the scene, and the woman identified Cash as the assailant less than two hours after the shooting, but the firearm was never recovered, Dolhun said.
Muriel Clement, Lenardo’s mother who also took the stand as a witness for the prosecution, was in tears as she listened to Dolhun describe how her son was shot repeatedly and suffered before he died. It was her first time hearing the circumstances of the shooting.
Lenardo’s upper body was struck with gunfire several times, with bullets going through his vital organs, Dolhun said.
Lynn Police Officer Shawn Hogan, who photographed the scene and victims, including Lenardo after he was pronounced dead at Union Hospital, told the court he had three bullet wounds near his left armpit and shoulder, two more in his right torso, a bullet wound in his groin and a long mark on his left leg a nurse believed was from a bullet grazing it.
“I didn’t know that Len suffered, but he did,” said Muriel through tears outside the courtroom, who added she couldn’t see why he had to lose his life. “He was such a good human being, never ever harmed anyone. He was a good soul. To hear the details of what happened, the bullets, the number of times he got shot, it went right to his heart. I just can’t see.”
It was a chaotic scene that day with the shooting happening right in the heart of downtown Lynn, said Lynn Police Lt. Robert Godbout, who was working as the patrol supervisor and was the first on the scene, arriving about a minute after the 911 call came in. Numerous people were frantically waving and pointing toward the LynnArts building, where the two men were suffering from gunshot wounds.
After Lenardo was struck, he struggled to a crosswalk at 25 Exchange St., before collapsing in a pool of blood in front of the LynnArts building, where he was found by first responders, according to Dolhun. Belin was leaning up against a pole and numerous shell casings were in the area, Godbout said.
During his cross-examination, Cash’s defense attorney Robert Sheketoff worked to establish that the crime scene may have been compromised by vehicular traffic before it could be secured by Godbout. He tended to the victims upon arrival and didn’t tape off the scene for five to 10 minutes, allowing cars to pass through.
Following Thursday’s proceedings, Sheketoff told The Item he had no comment about the case.
A year before his death, Lenardo had decided he was independent enough to live on his own and moved out of his mother’s house to an apartment on Washington Street, Muriel said. He had been dependent on her since he was struck with viral encephalitis at 2 years old, which left him completely blind and caused cognitive impairment, Muriel said.
At about 8 or 10 years old, his sight improved to legally blind. He graduated from the Perkins School for the Blind at age 22, and through the use of a cane and a lot of training, he eventually was able to walk around on his own.
Despite his disability, Lenardo worked for 10 years at Walmart and then for six years at Home Depot, but Muriel said her son was dependent on her for everything to support him because he couldn’t manage life on his own. Belin had been living with Lenardo rent-free for about a month before the shooting, because he didn’t have anywhere else to sleep, Muriel said.
The trial resumes on Friday at 9 a.m.