Special to The Leader

BATH | Opening statements in the trial of Thomas Clayton will begin today, after jury selection was completed Wednesday afternoon.

Clayton is facing one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in the death of his wife Kelley Stage Clayton. Opening statements from both sides will take place starting at 9:30 a.m. today in Steuben County Court.

Jury selection Wednesday began with a setback, after one of the six jurors selected Tuesday was dismissed for undisclosed reasons. By the end of the day, however, 11 men and four women were selected for the jury. One of the women and two of the men will serve as alternates.

Despite a slow start, jury selection proceeded quickly, with more jurors selected from each group questioned than in the trial of Michael Beard Sr., which began in October 2016.

Thomas Clayton’s trial is expected to last a month or more, compared to two weeks in the Beard case.

Thomas Clayton, who is currently free on bail, is accused of promising money to Beard in exchange for the killing of his wife.

Questioning of jurors on Wednesday featured a stark contrast in the approach taken by Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore, who is prosecuting the case, and attorney Ray Schlather of Ithaca, representing Thomas Clayton.

After Steuben County Judge Peter Bradstreet spoke to the potential jurors about whether they knew anyone involved in the case and if they could be impartial and follow the law, the two attorneys were given a limited amount of time to question each group of 21 people.

Wetmore asked about what kinds of movies and television prospective jurors enjoyed, as well as about what they liked to read.

He also asked if they were able to find the defendant guilty of murder even if there was no evidence he committed the killing himself.

Schlather asked the groups if they had followed media coverage of the case, but also asked them to place themselves in the place of his client, Thomas Clayton.

Imagine your “worst nightmare,” Schlather said.

“Your life might be coloring outside the lines in other ways, (but) you know, in terms of what you’re accused of here, you didn’t do it,” he told the panel.

He also asked that the jury give Thomas Clayton “the benefit of the doubt.”

Schlather was forcefully interrupted at that point by Bradstreet.

“I will instruct the jury on reasonable doubt,” the judge said.

Schlather also asked what he called “the baggage question.”

“As we go through life, we accumulate baggage,” positive and negative, he said.

He asked the potential jurors to consider, if they were the defendant in a case such as this, if they would want someone with their “baggage” on the jury.

Schlather said if the answer was “no,” they didn’t need to provide an explanation -- he would simply “do everything in (his) power” to have them dismissed from the jury pool.

Kelley Stage Clayton was murdered in her Caton home Sept. 29, 2015. Beard was convicted of first-degree murder-for-hire as well as two counts of second-degree murder in the killing.

He faces up to life in prison without parole when he is sentenced, which was scheduled for Jan. 30 but is likely to be delayed due to the ongoing trial of Thomas Clayton.

According to the prosecution theory presented in Beard’s trial, Thomas Clayton solicited Beard to kill his wife, provided transportation and access to the Caton home and placed the handle of a wood-splitting maul inside the home where it would eventually be used as the murder weapon.

The two Clayton children were present at the time of the murder, though some testimony from Beard’s trial indicated that Thomas Clayton believed the children would be out of the house.

A third man, Mark Blandford, of Elmira, was charged in August 2016 in relation to the killing.

Blandford, currently housed at Steuben County Jail on $100,000 bail, faces two counts of second-degree murder, one count of burglary and one count of conspiracy.

Wetmore told the media previously they don’t believe Blandford ever entered the home the night of Kelley Stage Clayton’s murder.

A trial date for Blandford has not been set.