Special to The Leader
BATH | Heading into its sixth week, testimony in the trial of Thomas Clayton continued with the apparent DNA ‘smoking gun’ that places Michael Beard in the residence at the time of the killing.
Jurors in Beard’s own trial asked to hear that testimony again just before returning with a guilty verdict.
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 Beard, a former employee, to kill his wife. Beard was convicted of first-degree murder-for-hire and two counts of second-degree murder in November 2016.
The jury on Tuesday heard from forensic scientist Leah Egnor of the New York State Police crime lab in Albany, who processed evidence in the case for the presence of blood and other body fluids.
Egnor was also responsible for passing on items for DNA analysis.
She testified under questioning from Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore that she processed a number of items, including the maul handle prosecutors say is the murder weapon, clothing taken from Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard and clothing from bags found in a swampy area off Grand Central Avenue - among other pieces of evidence.
She noted that some of the items from the swampy area showed obvious red-brown stains normally indicative of blood, but chemical tests of those areas didn’t show the presence of blood.
Others did test positive for blood, but as jurors later found out, the bloodstains didn’t contain enough DNA to be matched to anyone.
Egnor acknowledged under cross examination by defense attorney Ray Schlather that none of Thomas Clayton’s clothing tested positive for blood.
She also acknowledged, with prompting from the lab’s custody log, that trace evidence she collected from many items she processed never underwent further testing.
Jurors later heard from Amanda Brinton, also from the Albany crime lab, about the DNA analysis of evidence in the case.
Her key conclusion was the discovery of DNA consistent with Michael Beard within a smear of Kelley Clayton’s blood on the door of Kelley’s daughter’s bedroom.
That DNA was extracted using a technique that focuses on the male-specific Y-chromosome.
It’s not as perfect a match as a traditional DNA match, Brinton said, where there’s a 1 in 300 billion chance of different people sharing the same DNA markers.
However, the DNA found, according to Brinton, is “unique to (Beard’s) male family line.”
She also testified that an ‘ownership’ DNA sample from the T-shirt found in the swamp area was a complete DNA match for Beard.
Brinton said under cross examination that she never received DNA samples from some of the people related to the case, including Mark Blandford and Larry Johnson.
She also acknowledged that she was never asked to analyze swabs from the red truck allegedly used in the killing for DNA. Those swabs all tested negative for the presence of blood, according to Egnor.
Wetmore countered that the Albany crime lab faces a considerable backlog, and that DNA and other testing may be a low priority if “the case (is) moving along without the DNA.”
He said he actually asked Brinton last year if a DNA sample from Blandford would be helpful to her.
“All the profiles I had were accounted for, or were insufficient for comparison,” she said Tuesday, meaning there was no unidentified DNA left that could have been matched to anyone else.
Also on Tuesday, the jury heard testimony from Richard Flood, of Erie Insurance, who processed a homeowners’ insurance claim filed by Thomas Clayton after the killing.
He said there was “nothing in there for theft of property.”
Schlather has repeatedly suggested that investigators ignored Clayton’s report that a lockbox under the bed was missing from the home.
However, Flood testified that in Clayton’s notarized “proof of loss” statement, he specifically said that no theft had been reported to police.
Schlather countered during cross examination that his client was only concerned about repairs to the home, not monetary losses.
Jurors also heard briefly from Matthew Lunger, of Anchor Glass, who said Clayton called him about a week before the killing seeking a possible job for Beard, but that there was no follow-up.
And they heard from Sgt. Brian Logsdon of the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office, a certified fitness instructor who was asked to ride the silver Mongoose bike allegedly ridden by Michael Beard from ServPro to Beard’s former apartment on Grand Central Avenue and time the result.
He said the ride ranged from 10 minutes 22 seconds to 11 minutes 40 seconds depending on the route taken.
Wetmore didn’t make clear why this time was important, though it may come up again in further testimony.
Logsdon, who was first on the stand Tuesday, was also the 60th prosecution witness to testify in the trial so far.
At the very end of the day, Steuben County Sheriff’s Deputy Dean Swan took the stand, though only for a few minutes.
He was first on the scene the night of Kelley’s killing, and was wearing a body camera when he went into the home to search the residence for any possible perpetrator still on site.
Jurors are expected to see footage from that body camera this morning when testimony resumes at 9:30 a.m. in Steuben County Court.
Forensic scientist testifies that DNA consistent with Michael Beard found at scene of killing
Insurance adjuster says Thomas Clayton never filed an insurance claim for theft of lockbox defense has repeatedly said was in the house
Deputy who was first on scene begins testimony, will continue tomorrow with body camera footage