This week’s grisly case brings us up and over to Steuben County, NY, located in the state’s Southern Tier region, which sits right on top of Central Pennsylvania’s northern border. It is about a 5-hour drive northwest of NYC, and a 2-hour drive southwest from Syracuse. It is an amazing place to visit, especially in the Fall. For example, the Southern Tier Outdoor Show opens on October 12, 2019 at the Steuben County Fairgrounds. For just $5 per person or $10 per car, you can experience 150 vendors, professional classes, hands-on youth activities, demonstrations, and seminars covering everything from fishing secrets to planting food plots.
But bad things can happen even in good places. This is a case about greed.
Thomas Clayton, the accused; his wife, Kelley Stage, the victim; Lisa Clayton, 7 years old – the daughter; Linda Miller, Thomas’s friend’s wife; Michael Beard, Thomas’s accomplice.
The Claytons were bought their home in the Steuben County Town of Caton, and raised their two young children there.
Kelley Clayton was sleeping in her bed one evening when someone entered the bedroom.
The assailant struck her twice with the maul handle, but she was able to fend him off and run out of the room to protect her children. Kelley made a desperate dash down the hall toward her daughter's bedroom, knocking a picture off the wall in the process, before turning back. She fell down the stairs and smashed into the wall on the landing, before running across the dining room area into the kitchen. She could not run anymore. It was there that her assailant caught up with her and upgraded the attack, savagely beating Kelley about the head and face, finally leaving her battered and lifeless body sprawled on the floor.
The children were not hurt; nothing was stolen; there was no indication of a break-in. Where was Thomas? Around 7:30 that evening, Thomas kissed his wife and children goodbye and drove into Corning for a regular Monday night poker game at the home of friend Greg Miller.
Thomas was eventually arrested and charged with the murder of his wife.
Testimony of Thomas Clayton:
Q: Where were you on the night of…?
A: At a poker game with my friends at Miller's house.
Q: Did you make any calls while you were at the game?
A: I don’t believe my phone records would show any calls were made by me that night.
Q: What time did you leave?
A: I left the poker game around 12:20 a.m. I pulled into my driveway shortly after 12:30 and went inside.
Q: What did you see?
A: Carnage. My wife was just tore apart, blood all over. I called 911.
Testimony of Linda Miller:
Q: Thomas was at your home playing cards that night?
A: He was. It was typical. They played every Monday night.
Q: Did anything out of the ordinary happen during the game.
A: Not really; except, Thomas asked to use my phone.
Q: Did you let him?
A: Of course.
Q: Why was that out of the ordinary?
A: Well, I had seen him check his iPhone just a few minutes before he asked me to use the phone.
Q: Who did he call?
A: My records indicated he called Michael Beard. He worked with Thomas.
Testimony of Lisa Clayton – the Daughter:
Q: What did you see?
A: In the middle of the night, I saw a man hurting mommy. I saw the robber like hitting her with like this pipe thingy until she was on the ground.
Q: What did you hear?
A: Mommy screamed, “Run!" as the robber chased her downstairs. There was blood everywhere: on my door, on the floor. Not on the carpet though. And I thought she was dead when she was lying on the ground in the blood. She was sort of suffering. Then I hugged her leg.
Q: What did he look like?
A: Everything was just like daddy. But it couldn't have been daddy because then who would take care of us?
Testimony of Michael Beard:
Q: Were you responsible for the death of Kelley Clayton?
A: Partly. But I had no choice. Thomas put me in a bad way.
Q: What did you do on the night of Kelley’s death?
A: Earlier in the evening, I stopped to pick up a friend, Mark Blandford. He didn’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’ except that he was going to be a lookout. I pulled up close to the Clayton home around midnight, and slipped in quietly through the garage using a key that Thomas gave to me. I also grabbed an axe that had the head broke off. I went in and finished the job I was paid to do.
Q: How much were you paid by Thomas?
A: Ten large.
Q: Excuse me?
Cross-Examination of Michael Beard:
Q: Sir, you owed Thomas a lot of money?
A: I owed him some.
Q: More than “ten large?”
A: A little less.
Q: And he was your landlord?
Q: And he was in the process of evicting you?
A: Well, yeah, but…
Q: Nothing further.
Closing Statement by Thomas:
People of the jury, what you have here is nothing more than the lies of Beard, a murderer, and circumstantial evidence. Nothing more. A man’s life is at stake here. The People have not provided you with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas was in any way involved with the murder of his wife. Not Guilty. Not Guilty. Thank you.
Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard were convicted of first and second degree murder.
At the sentencing hearing, Kelley’s 8-year-old daughter, Charlie, wrote a letter to the court which was read aloud: “I feel my dad is a coward because he asked Michael Beard to kill my mom.”
Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard and are currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in different New York State prisons.
Thomas’s lawyers argued that there was not sufficient evidence that defendant was complicit in his wife's murder, and that he was part of a string of otherwise innocent interactions between defendant and the principal in the days leading up to the murder. The dissent even offers the possibility that the principal was seeking a reward from defendant—not for agreeing to murder defendant's wife, but for unrelated virtuous conduct.
The Court disagreed: There is evidence that the principal requested a payment of money from defendant only five days before the murder. Thomas and Beard will remain in jail.
Here is the case: