Recent testing of two DNA samples still stored from the October 1992 investigation of Richard “Dick” Woods shooting death helped convince Sam Perone to plead guilty on Tuesday, apparently wrapping up the case after 24 years, according to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.
This was among the revelations revealed as Perone, 68, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and gross abuse of a corpse and agreed to spend about 10 years in prison during a hearing in a courtroom packed with Woods’ family, law enforcement officials and media.
“Dick can finally rest in peace. I think we’ll all be happier,” his former wife, Sue Woods Schneier, said during a press conference following the plea and sentencing in Warren County Common Pleas Court.
In preparing for Perone’s upcoming murder trial, prosecutors sought samples of Woods’ spleen to prove he was the one killed on Oct. 8, 1992.
In addition, lab technicians turned up two untested DNA samples: One sample from a door jam at the Just Living Rooms store in Lebanon where Woods was allegedly shot twice in the back of the head. The other sample came from carpet fibers taken from the basement of the home outside Lebanon where Perone lived with his wife Deborah.
Tests showed both were from Woods, Fornshell said.
Fornshell also said Perone’s lawyers explored a possible plea agreement after doing their own DNA analysis.
Perone declined to say anything in court and was led back to jail after the hearing. Afterward, his lawyers said Perone agreed to the plea to protect his wife.
“Deb Perone didn’t have anything to do with this. That was first and foremost in his mind, relieving her of liability,” lawyer Rob Kaufman said as he left the courtroom.
However Fornshell and Schneier indicated they still believed Perone’s wife was involved.
They said they agreed to this condition of the plea bargain to conclude the case - recognizing that prosecuting her, although the statute of limitations had run out on likely charges against her - could have resulted in one or two difficult trials, based largely on 24-year-old evidence and the fading memories of witnesses still living.
One key witness, Mark Duvelius, an investigator whose telephone conversation with Perone was the subject of pretrial discussions last week, died earlier this year.
Perone pleaded guilty to shooting Woods, 41, a rival salesman, during an altercation at the furniture store and dumping his body in a ravine outside of town. Woods car was found at a rest area on Interstate 71.
But Fornshell said exactly what happened “remains a mystery to this day.”
Perone’s motive? Fornshell said, “Jealousy.”
Shortly after Woods’ death, the Perones moved to Arizona, where they were living when both were taken from their home before Sam Perone’s extradition in 2015. She was never charged.
During the press conference, Fornshell read from a transcript of a wire-tapped call between the Perones after she was questioned, while he was out of town.
“Remember our promise. Remember our promise. If you go down, I go down,” Deborah Perone said, according to Fornshell.
Judge Donald Oda II sentenced Perone to 11 years in prison, but he will get credit for the more than a year he spent in jail since his arrest on the 23rd anniversary of Woods’ death at his home in Arizona.
Perone will also be charged for the cost of the prosecution and he retained a trio of lawyers in his defense.
On Tuesday, the courtroom gallery was filled with family and supporters of Woods’ family, predominantly local law enforcement officials, including Tom Ariss, who was sheriff at the time of the murder and John Newsom, an investigator who led the cold-case team that revived the case.
“There’s just been a lot of effort over the years,” Fornshell said.
Before the sentencing, Kaufman reminded the judge that Perone was a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who had only one parking ticket since 1992 and no other criminal record.
Woods’ family expressed hope that Perone would reveal more about what happened in a letter from prison.
“We would all like to know why,” Schneier said.