William D. Perry tried to destroy the evidence of his neighbor’s killing. He decapitated the body, kept his mouth shut and hid his bloody clothes.
North Canton police had some evidence tying him to the murder of Brett W. Smith, but it wasn’t so strong that Perry and his lawyers wouldn’t go to trial, even facing the chance of a death sentence.
Then, 10 months after the killing, authorities got a gift: Trash bags holding clothing, shoes and other items stained with paint, bleach and blood, were found in a home where Perry once lived.
Within hours of the discovery, Perry incriminated himself with telephone calls from jail. Letters he wrote also ended up in the hands of investigators.
On Thursday, the yearlong case ended with a final twist.
Perry, 42, appeared before a three-judge panel in Stark County Common Pleas Court. He pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated murder with death-penalty specifications, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence, and gave up his appeal rights.
Judges Lee Sinclair, John G. Haas and Charles E. Brown Jr. accepted the recommendation of county prosecutors and sentenced Perry to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Mr. Perry will never walk the streets of our society again, and that’s the way it should be,” said Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Dennis Barr.
As part of the plea deal, Perry, his attorneys and county prosecutors agreed to an 11-page statement of facts, many of which have not been public, and which are the basis for this story.
On Oct. 3, 2008, Perry went to Smith’s trailer. The men had an altercation, and Perry beat Smith severely and strangled him.
Then, Perry started the cover-up.
He severed Smith’s head and tried to burn it in the victim’s oven. He cut off Smith’s fingers and thumbs. He wrapped his neighbor’s body in plastic and poured blue and white paint over it and throughout the trailer.
He also took money from Smith’s wallet, part of a disability payment Smith had withdrawn from the bank earlier that day.
“What went on in (Perry’s) mind that caused this to happen, I don’t think we’ll ever know,” said defense attorney Anthony Kaplanis.
Smith’s mother found her son’s body the next evening. A knife was stuck in his chest.
Because of his run-ins with Smith, police started looking at Perry.
On the deck outside Perry’s trailer, police noticed spots of paint similar to that in Smith’s trailer. A sock found next to the deck steps tested positive for the possibility of blood. Smith’s DNA was on the outside, and DNA likely belonging to Perry’s was inside.
Police also found a silver bracelet in Smith’s trailer. Witnesses identified it as belonging to Perry.
“We knew he did it, but it was putting together enough pieces to convince everyone else,” said North Canton police detective John Minock.
In the middle of August, police got their unexpected break.
In an air duct, inside a closet, an acquaintance of Perry’s found the trash bags while removing carpet from a home on Hillcrest Avenue NW where Perry had once lived and still had access to around the time of the murder. The bags contained shoes, boots, clothing and a 9 mm handgun.
There also was a sock matching the one found outside Perry’s trailer.
Perry, who had been quiet throughout the investigation, started talking.
“The phone calls and letters pretty much did him in,” said defense attorney Anthony Koukoutas.
The best Perry could hope for at trial would be life without parole, his attorneys told him.
“I was never really in touch with evil, but now I am,” Judy Smith told Perry in court, standing a few feet from her son’s killer.
But Perry’s attorneys asked the judges to consider their client’s good side.
He is the father of three children. He went to cosmetology school. He was a Marine, and served as a military police officer in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, where he was decorated for preventing a riot among prisoners of war, Koukoutas said.
But after his honorable discharge in 1991, Perry’s life unraveled.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. He used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, Koukoutas said. In 1997, Perry went to prison in Florida for shooting into a bar.
Then, it was Perry’s turn to speak. He turned his chair to face Smith’s mother.
“I’m, uh, sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I can’t say it any other way. I ask for your forgiveness.”
“I don’t think it was sincere,” she said. “I don’t think he showed much remorse at all.”