Alberto Palmer spoke without emotion Wednesday as he told an Anoka County judge how he beat teenager Brittany Clardy to death with a hammer.
When asked by the judge if he recalled saying previously that he had heard the woman’s heart beating after stuffing her into a car trunk, Palmer said he must have been mistaken.
A few minutes later, Palmer not only pleaded guilty to the February 2013 murder of the 18-year-old St. Paul woman, but also agreed to admit in Hennepin County District Court next month that he killed 24-year-old Georgia native Klaressa Cook around the same time.
The rare dual-county agreement on the high-profile case will put Palmer behind bars for a minimum of 60 years, because the sentences will run consecutively.
Palmer’s pattern of violence against women started several years earlier in Georgia, where he was charged with brutally assaulting and raping three women. For Alvin Clardy, Brittany’s father, “it was hard to listen” to Palmer, but the hearing was somewhat anticlimactic. “We are just trying to go forward with this and move on,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time Clardy’s family has come to watch Palmer in court. Alvin Clardy said his daughter’s killer has consistently shown a lack of remorse. “I don’t even know if he’s capable of it,” he said.
Palmer’s plea deal, which came together just two weeks before he was to go on trial, will have him first serving a 40-year sentence for Clardy’s murder, which could be reduced by a third of the time on supervised release. Then, for Cook’s death, he will serve at least 30 years on a life sentence with a chance for parole. Palmer is now 25, so he’d be 85 years old if he got out after that minimum of 60 years behind bars.
The sentence for Clardy’s death marked an upward departure from state guidelines because of the particular cruelty surrounding her death and the fact that Palmer concealed her body, which was not found until more than a week later.
“We believed this would be in the best interest of justice, and we had a lot of input from the families,” said Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo. “It’s a tragedy for them and the community when young people’s lives are taken away so senselessly.”
2 bodies found in cars
Clardy, described by friends as bright and confident, taught at a St. Paul recreation center. She had dropped out of an alternative high school in her senior year.
Police said she had worked as a prostitute, a painful fact that her parents learned after she died.
Palmer met Clardy through her ad on backpage.com. After having sex with her at his brother’s Brooklyn Park home, Palmer got into a fight with her. He starting hitting her, then grabbed a hammer in the kitchen, repeatedly bashing it into her head.
“I knew what I was doing,” he said in court Wednesday. “But I didn’t know she was dead.”
Her frozen body was found in her car in a Columbia Heights impound lot eight days after it was towed there.
Three months later, in May 2013, Cook’s body was found in a car in a Minneapolis impound lot.
She had talked about becoming a veterinarian, and relatives said she was eager to start a family because she was good with children. They weren’t sure why she came to Minnesota, but she, too, was also believed to have worked as a prostitute.
Barbara Taylor, Cook’s aunt, said she was speechless when told Palmer is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. She said she didn’t think Cook’s parents could have stood the stress of a long trial.
“It still doesn’t bring Klaressa back,” she said. “The family is still mourning, but a life sentence will make the rest of the family feel a lot better.”
Shock and grief
Palmer, who ran a chicken and waffle shop near Atlanta before moving to Minnesota, had said previously that he didn’t kill Clardy. At a hearing in December, he said to a reporter, “I didn’t do it. You can write that.”
Two of Palmer’s relatives reached Wednesday said they were shocked that he agreed to a plea deal. Tameka Palmer, Alberto’s sister, said she had talked to him a few weeks ago about attending his trial and that he was writing a book about his life.
“I have no idea why he decided to do the deal,” she said. “He was remorseful. I want to cry.”
Ceara Miller, the mother of Palmer’s 3-year-old daughter, broke down in tears when told how long he will be in prison.
“I talked to him Friday and he didn’t say nothing about taking a deal,” she said. “I thought he was going to fight.”
Alvin Clardy said he was steeled for Wednesday’s hearing, but relieved that Palmer has nearly exhausted his legal options.
“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “You have your ups and downs. You learn to keep on. I have other family looking for me to take care of them.”
He said he will attend Palmer’s sentencing and offer a victim-impact statement. He said his family has had some contact with the Cook family, and he talked about possibly reaching out to Palmer’s family.
“I hate what he’s done, and I wish something could have been done to stop him,” Clardy said. “But I’m not trying to lay blame on anyone.”