BATH | Six defense witnesses took the stand Thursday in the trial of Thomas Clayton, quickly enough that attorney Ray Schlather ran out of witnesses before the scheduled day was over.

Schlather began presenting his case Wednesday after the conclusion of a prosecution case that took the better part of six weeks and 65 witnesses.

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.

First on the stand Thursday was Dale Partridge, a private investigator and former New York State Police investigator who worked on behalf of Clayton’s defense.

He testified to taking photos at the Clayton residence Jan. 5, 2016, including of marks under the bed in the master bedroom that the defense has said indicate the presence of a missing lockbox that police never investigated.

Though the photos were taken months after the killing, Partridge said the marks “appeared to have been there for quite some time.”

But he admitted under cross examination by Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore that he had no way of knowing when the object that created the marks had been removed, or even if it had been removed before the Sept. 29, 2015 killing.

Next up was ServPro office manager Tammy Black.

She testified that she received three phone calls from Beard on Sept. 28 seeking paperwork to allow him to qualify for public assistance benefits.

She said she typed up the necessary document early that day and left it for Clayton to retrieve.

She also said that ServPro, and later Clayton on his own, had worked to try to clear outstanding fines in South Carolina that were preventing Beard from acquiring a New York driver’s license.

Under cross examination, Black said she believes it was Sept. 28 that Thomas Clayton said he still wanted to pay the fines on behalf of Beard, despite his Sept. 17 firing from ServPro.

And she said that when she learned that Clayton had been driving a ServPro company vehicle the night of the killing, she asked why.

Black said it was relatively normal for Clayton to drive those vehicles home, “if there’s a reason,” such as a job the vehicle was immediately needed for.

Schlather then called Arthur Sable, a commercial banker for Community Bank who handled the loan for the planned purchase of another building for ServPro, which was being negotiated around the time of Kelley’s murder.

He said he never met Clayton directly - he only worked with ServPro owner Brian Laing - but that he saw Clayton’s financial documents as part of the collateral for the loan.

He said the two men both had high credit ratings, but Clayton’s was slightly higher, at 798.

He also said Clayton had no outstanding debt other than his home mortgage and two auto loans.

He acknowledged under cross examination that he would not have known of any gambling losses by Clayton unless those losses were reported in a tax filing.

Jurors also heard Thursday from Robert Wilcox, co-owner of M&M Auto. His estranged wife and other M&M co-owner Belinda Wilcox testified on Wednesday.

Wilcox repeated much of what his wife had said - that he was a regular customer who was in the shop a lot, and that “it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to use the landline.”

Clayton made a call to Beard from an M&M Auto phone at 12:09 p.m. Sept. 28.

Wilcox also testified that work had been scheduled on Kelley’s vehicle for Sept. 30, though he said it had been scheduled previously, around Sept. 24 or 25.

Belinda Wilcox had suggested Clayton might have scheduled the work during the Sept. 28 visit.

Robert Wilcox also told of an incident Sept. 29 in which he said a “dark-complected” male had come to the lot and said he had $1,000 in cash and needed a vehicle to leave the area.

He said the man later got into an altercation with a woman who drove up in a vehicle, and the police were called. Schlather then asked if Wilcox was familiar with Larry Johnson, a former ServPro and Paul Davis employee and acquaintance of Michael Beard.

He said he was not.

It was unclear if Schlather was suggesting the man attempting to leave the area was Larry Johnson, but records later produced by Wetmore indicated the man detained by police in that incident was not Larry Johnson or anyone else with an apparent connection to the case.

Wilcox also testified he felt “threatened” by the repeated visits of New York State Police investigators seeking information about the case, and eventually called Schlather’s office for help.

He said he found out who Clayton’s attorney was through social media.

Schlather then called to the stand John Kuehn, the previous owner of Thomas and Kelley Clayton’s Caton residence. Kuehn said he met Clayton when he sought referrals to Paul Davis Emergency Services from Sprague Insurance, where Kuehn worked at the time.

He said the purchase was made without the involvement of a Realtor, and that payments were made directly to him from the Claytons.

He also testified that as part of the agreement, he requested a “collateral assignment” in Clayton’s life insurance policy to ensure the mortgage would be paid off in the event of a death.

The last witness to take the stand Thursday was Cynthia Ryan, of the Chemung County Department of Social Services.

She spoke about Beard’s application for temporary assistance, and verified the required documents he had reportedly been seeking in the time leading up to the killing.

Testimony from the defense will continue when the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. today in Steuben County Court.

****BREAKOUT***** 

Thursday's Highlights

Defense goes quickly through six witnesses in otherwise slow-going trial

Banker testifies Clayton appeared in good financial condition, with high credit rating