Michael Lubahn Clark, left, in court with defense attorney Kevin Donahue,… (Steve McCrank, Daily Breeze )
Over 32 years, Michael Lubahn Clark told authorities a number of contradictory stories about his wife's disappearance from their Torrance home in 1981.
First, he said the last he'd heard from her was the slamming of a door. Later, he added that he saw her drive away. At his murder trial last year, Clark told jurors he was sure his wife returned home after that night because he had spread powder on the ground that tracked her footprints.
On Monday, Clark walked into court with yet another story.
He had been convicted of his wife's murder. And for the first time, he admitted his wife died at his hands — but he insisted it was an accident. He promised to show authorities where he later dumped the body of Carol Jeanne Meyer Lubahn, his high school sweetheart and mother to their two young children.
A judge sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison.
Clark's change of heart came earlier in a Dec. 14 letter to Lubahn's mother, which Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin read aloud in court.
"I want to thank you for being so good to us over the years," Clark writes, before launching into a version of the night Carol disappeared.
"Carol didn't run away," Clark wrote. "It's when she came back, the trouble started."
On the night of March 31, 1981, Lubahn left their home after an argument. She returned around 1:30 a.m., Lewin said in court, and told Clark that she was with another man. After a heated exchange, Clark pushed her and she hit her head on a coffee table, Lewin said. Under intense questioning, Clark changed his story again and said he had punched her. Either way, Lewin said, Clark believed she was dead.
He panicked, Lewin said. Clark hid the body in the garage behind a roll of carpet, then drove it out to Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes, near a lighthouse. He donned flippers and a wet suit, boarded a raft and swam out 200 yards beyond the kelp line. There, he sank her body in the ocean, weighted with a cinder block, Lewin said.
Clark told his story under a polygraph test. Prosecutors said he failed parts of it, and that they don't believe he's telling the full truth.
At one point Lewin stood and asked Clark to tell the truth. He said there was no way Lubahn could have died immediately from a single push or punch. He has asked Clark to submit to additional polygraph tests.
"Sometimes the truth doesn't come out in one chunk," Lewin said. "It comes out piece by piece, and you have to keep drawing it out."
Defense attorney Kevin Donahue has maintained there was insufficient evidence of malice on Clark's part, and the case was "based purely on speculation."
Lubahn's mother, Melba Meyer, 86, said she never truly believed that Clark was responsible for the murder until she witnessed his uneven performance during last year's trial.
"He always had so many stories," Meyer said. "I just couldn't understand how someone could do that to his children."
Clark stayed close with his family over the years, even in prison. As he was led out in blue coveralls at a Dec. 12 hearing, Michael Lubahn Clark waved reassuringly at his son, who waved back.
At that hearing, Michael Lubahn Jr. pleaded with the judge to show leniency.
"Thirty-two years ago I lost my mother. Today, I still have the same questions as I did before, but now I stand to lose another parent," Lubahn Jr. said. "If he's sent to prison, I will miss our time together. It's going to be hard to watch the world change without him."
On Wednesday, Lewin said, Clark has volunteered to accompany divers to the patch of ocean where he sank Lubahn's body.
Lubahn's sister, Terri Meyer Samuelson, said she knows it's unlikely the body will be found. But she said she'd rest easier if they could find some proof of Clark's latest version of events — even if it's just the cinder block he used.
"We found out part of the truth today," Samuelson said. "Now we want the other half."