There was no shock in a courtroom in Lancaster late Thursday afternoon when a judge took exactly three seconds to deny bond to the convicted felon accused of killing former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn Jr. after an argument Feb. 7.
Seasoned prosecutor Doug Barfield – who thought he had seen and heard it all until this case – told a courtroom that the accused killer, an unemployed 37-year-old who lives at home with his momma and his drug convictions, confessed to shooting Clyburn for a simple reason.
“Clyburn played pro ball and never did anything for anybody in the ’hood,” the Sixth Circuit solicitor said of Derrick McIlwain’s confession.
A ’hood is slang for a neighborhood, often associated with poorer neighborhoods, and it certainly was the place Danny Clyburn Jr. escaped from to go on to hit home runs in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays during a decade in professional baseball.
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The hood is where Danny left. And when he came back to visit, he was killed.
Danny died from a single .25-caliber bullet to the heart, in the ’hood after a night of drinking with people he had known for decades – the same place his accused killer told authorities Clyburn had turned his back on.
So there it was, unmasked, in front of a courtroom of three burly bailiffs, an inscrutable judge and the detectives who arrested McIlwain. None could believe the incredible idiocy of the death of a former Major League ballplayer who had only been home for a visit for three days from his home in California when he was shot.
“Your honor, in three days I will have been a policeman for 12 years,” Lancaster Police Detective Brenner Hartley told Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith. “This is, by far, one of the most senseless acts of violence I have ever heard of.”
Then Hartley sat down, because there was nothing more to say about a shooting that happened, supposedly, because a talented, hard-working professional baseball player didn’t give his presumed riches to unemployed hoodlum ex-cons lacking either motivation or talent.
Barfield, the prosecutor for so long in Lancaster who has put dozens of convicted killers in jail, said McIlwain admitted the shooting after a pushing match that started outside a house used as a “man-cave” drinking spot.
“A place where they would drink, carry on,” Barfield said. “I never heard of anything like it before.”
A place Clyburn, 37, visited while home, to see old friends after spending days with his family. It is right down North Market Street from where Clyburn grew up.
The motive for murder buckled the knees of Clyburn’s father, Danny Clyburn Sr.
Danny Clyburn Jr. made good money playing pro ball, but the most he ever made was $200,000 in a season. He was no millionaire. And he lasted just parts of three seasons in the majors before his career ended in the minor leagues.
Clyburn Sr. had just seen his son hours earlier, on Feb. 6. He urged his son, in town to see his kids, to stay home instead of going out to see “the guys.”
“Just keep him in jail,” Clyburn Sr. implored the judge, concerning the man who, according to court testimony, has admitted to neighbors, his family and police that he shot Danny Clyburn Jr.
The motive for the killing silenced Clyburn’s sister, who gasped in the courtroom before urging that McIlwain stay in a cell.
It caused Clyburn’s ex-wife and mother of his two kids, Latonia Samuel, to burst into tears before she had a chance to respond to what she had just heard.
“I just cannot believe what happened to this man who is the father of our children, who remained a dear friend,” said Samuel. “Senseless? To kill him for the reason I just heard, it is just mind-boggling.”
Samuel, who said Clyburn took care of his children, that even with divorce he was a good father and provider, then turned her emotion to McIlwain – who never uttered a word in court after telling everybody who would listen a month ago that he shot Clyburn.
Latonia Samuel said words in court that sounded like an air-raid siren.
“Just because you felt, because he played pro baseball, that he owed you something, you did this,” Samuel said as she shook and cried. “You could have done something for yourself. (Danny) did give back to the people who mattered to him.”
McIlwain’s court-appointed lawyer, assistant public defender William Frick, told the judge that McIlwain was not a flight risk or a danger to the community. Just minutes before, Barfield had told the judge how McIlwain fled the scene and hid the gun before turning himself in and confessing.
Further, Frick said, both men had been drinking, there was a history of arguments between the two who knew each other since childhood, and Clyburn’s autopsy showed that Clyburn had THC in his system. THC is an acronym for a chemical found in marijuana.
“No one in this situation has clean hands,” Frick said.
Clyburn, who started pro ball in 1992 straight out of high school, did have a conviction for drug possession in 2006 after his career ended, court records show. But Barfield was having none of that argument.
The prosecutor acknowledged there was an argument Feb. 7. He said there was some pushing, but two witnesses who were there when Clyburn was shot told police that McIlwain's response to Clyburn’s rebuking any claim that he should have been better to people in the hood was simple:
“The defendant immediately took out a gun and shot him.”
Even McIlwain’s sister said that she apologized for what her brother did and that he told her previously he didn’t want to get out of jail because he “has to man up.”
That nobility apparently lasted just days, though, as it has only been five weeks since the shooting and McIlwain asked Thursday to be freed on bond.
Judge Goldsmith had just three words to say Thursday after hearing all of this: “Bond is denied.”
Both Barfield, the prosecutor, and Frick, the defense lawyer, acknowledged in court that plea negotiations are already under way, but offered no specifics. A murder conviction carries a mandatory 30 years to life in prison. Voluntary manslaughter – a crime of passion – carries up to 30 years.
After court, Clyburn’s family was pleased that McIlwain left court as he came in – shackled hands and feet, surrounded by a platoon of cops.
Latonia Samuel – who had to go home and tell her kids, Clyburn’s kids, about how this man allegedly shot their father because he wanted the money Clyburn gave his kids and family – said this as she left about how she would like to see McIlwain released, if he goes to prison.
“In a box,” she said. “He should leave jail when he is dead. Like what he did to Danny.”