Special to The Leader
BATH | Following a long delay in the morning after a juror had to be replaced with an alternate, the prosecution in the Thomas Clayton murder trial spent the afternoon setting out a high-tech analysis of cell phone data that it says shows the timeline of a murder-for-hire scheme.
Clayton is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the September 2015 killing of his wife, Kelley Stage Clayton. Prosecutors say Thomas Clayton hired a former employee, Michael Beard, to kill his wife. Beard was convicted of first-degree murder-for-hire and two counts of second-degree murder in November 2016.
Expert witness Sy Ray took the stand Wednesday to explain to the jury how his company’s software can combine data from various sources to produce a map of the movements of Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard in the days leading up to the killing -- and correlate those movements with messages and calls to and from each phone.
Despite a long explanation of the technical components and limitations of the method, the presentation seemed to go a long way toward tying together a prosecution case that has so far consisted of a lot of facts but little connective tissue to hold it together.
Ray founded his company, Zetx, after a career in law enforcement developing tools to track cellular phones.
He later spent 10 months in Afghanistan helping the Department of Defense to track insurgents using radio frequencies.
Under questioning from Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore, he explained that the mapping he presented to the jury was based on approximately 60,000 data points, based on cellular provider records, phone data extractions performed by police technicians, GPS data from ServPro’s own vehicle tracking system and data from Google’s tracking system.
Ray said his system has been used by 250 law enforcement agencies across the United States, and over the last year, they’ve mapped 32 million phone calls using their software.
His walkthrough of the timeline, which wasn’t completed due to the shortened day, began with the movements of Clayton and Beard just before noon on Sept. 21.
The tracking appears to show both moving from the Elmira area to the Caton area, then back again.
Just after, Beard texts Clayton, saying, “Need a bike.”
According to prosecutors, Beard used a bike to get home after returning the truck used in the killing to the ServPro parking lot.
Later, on Sept. 23, Clayton, before leaving for a business trip to Ohio, can be seen traveling to an area not far from where Beard lived at the time.
That night is when Larry Johnson testified he rode with Beard to the Clayton residence in Caton.
During that time period, Beard’s phone is powered off, except for a short period at 1:42 a.m. that clearly shows him in the Caton area.
At 1:52 a.m., back in the Elmira area, Beard texts Clayton: “When you can, call me.”
Early the next morning, Clayton calls his wife Kelley at 6:56 a.m., then calls Beard at 7:25 a.m. and again at 7:31 a.m.
Later that night, Beard is in the area around Harrison and Cleveland Streets in Elmira Heights where Johnson testified the white truck they took to Caton the night before had been parked, and texts Clayton again.
“The boxes are being watched on the same street,” he tells Clayton cryptically. “Do you remember where I put the boxes on that street?”
And on Sept. 28, just five minutes after a phone call from Beard to Clayton, the two are both in the area of ServPro, where prosecutors say they switched vehicles in order to facilitate the killing.
At 11:24 p.m. that night, Beard, at his home, turns his phone off again, and doesn’t power it back on again until 1:12 a.m., in an area near 11th and Horseheads Boulevard where keys were found discarded in a streambed.
Ray’s testimony will continue starting at 9:30 a.m. today in Steuben County Court.