Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz man gets more than 50 years to life in prison for killing his girlfriend

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - A Santa Cruz man was sentenced Friday afternoon to more than 50 years to life in state prison for killing his one-time girlfriend and then living with her body for at least two weeks. 

John Clauer, 66, was found guilty of murder in January for the death of Heather Stearns.

Authorities found the body of 30-year-old Stearns inside Clauer's East Cliff Avenue apartment on April 26, 2011, when they went to investigate neighbors' reports of a strong, foul smell coming from within. A medical examiner determined she'd been dead for at least two weeks and that she'd likely been strangled by hand.

At Friday afternoon's sentencing, a victim's advocate read a letter from Stearns' mother, in which she said she has been in therapy since her daughter's death. Clauer also was ordered to pay fines and restitution to Stearn's mother, who said she has been unable to work due to the emotional trauma of her daughter's death.

Santa Cruz County Judge John Salazar sentenced Clauer to 50 years to life in prison plus an additional nine-year sentence, to be served consecutively.

Clauer showed no remorse in court Friday, and at one point, angrily shouted "that never happened" in response to one of the women who spoke on behalf of the victim.

In an odd twist, one of the lead investigators in this case was detective Elizabeth Butler, one of two Santa Cruz police officers killed in February 2013.

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