Special to the Leader

BATH | An extremely short week in the trial of Thomas Clayton stretched into a very long last day, with a full-day cross examination of prosecution expert witness Sy Ray that drove the session into ‘overtime.’

Court didn’t wrap up on Friday until 5:15 p.m., 45 minutes after the normal ending time, and that was after an unusually short lunch break for the jury.

The extension was necessary because Ray is not available to return for more testimony next week.

The case has now completed its fifth week in Steuben County Court.

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.

Ray is an expert witness who mapped cell phone data related to phones from Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard in order to allow the prosecution to visualize the two men’s movements.

Schlather, beginning his cross-examination, first raised the subject of testimony given in a previous case by Ray, saying it was acceptable to lie to a defendant.

“I absolutely have (said that),” Ray replied.

Ray, a former law enforcement officer, later testified under redirect examination that he said that during a trial involving the brutal kidnapping and rape of a teenage girl.

Bradstreet acknowledged that it was well-established that law enforcement can stray from the truth in order to secure crucial information or a confession from a suspect.

Schlather also questioned Ray’s educational credentials, saying he’d asked for proof of the witness’ college degree from the prosecution and it hadn’t been provided.

“I will testify under oath that is not true,” said Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore.

He said the college diploma hadn’t been asked for, and did produce the document later in the day.

It was only among the first of a number of heated exchanges during the day’s testimony.

Ray acknowledged under questioning by Schlather that he had been provided a list of relevant times and dates by New York State Police Inv. Allison Regan to focus on for the court presentation, and that those focus areas had information related to the case associated with them.

Schlather suggested that went counter to Ray’s earlier testimony that he didn’t want or ask for any information about the case before going through his mapping process.

But Ray said under redirect questioning by Wetmore that the request from Regan came a day after the computer mapping had been completed, and was necessary to narrow down the more than 60,000 data points he was working from.

“We have to focus on something,” Ray said.

Things got somewhat heated again when Schlather was asking about computer file types used in the mapping process.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ray replied.

Schlather then questioned whether Ray was actually familiar with the software being used.

Ray founded his company, Zetx, based on the software, which he wrote himself.

He was also asked whether he was given data to map from phones belonging to other people related to the case, including Mark Blandford, Holly Beard and Larry Johnson.

Ray said he wasn’t, and in fact didn’t know who those people were.

Much of the day was characterized by a repeating pattern of questions and answers.

“You don’t have data on cell towers as they existed in September 2015,” Schlather said at one point.

“That’s incorrect,” Ray replied.

Schlather then moved on to another topic.

And later on, an argument about the accuracy of certain data and documents seemed to be taking place between Schlather, Ray and Wetmore, with nothing being addressed to the jury for several minutes.

“We’re doing this in a vacuum,” Wetmore commented.

A lot of the day was focused on a specific two-minute period of time: from 11:42-11:44 a.m. Sept. 21, 2015.

Schlather brought up Google estimated location data showing Beard’s phone apparently in the Caton area at 11:42 a.m. and southwest of Millerton, Pa., at 11:44 a.m.

Ray said that the explanation lay in the unreliability of the Google location data when based on cellular connections, and that the data points couldn’t be viewed in isolation.

Schlather continued in that vein, noting discrepancies in individual data sets, as the witness said the individual data sets couldn’t be viewed that way.

Under redirect questioning by Wetmore, Ray said the Caton to Millerton, Pa., anomaly was actually one of the most telling pieces of the puzzle as part of the overall mapping.

He said the specific topography near the Clayton residence is what made the apparently confusing data possible.

“There’s only one or two places (in the area) where I can replicate (that),” he said.

The defense objected at that point that the witness had “gone beyond his competency” to testify. The objection was overruled.

Schlather also questioned why only certain text message content was placed into the mapping program.

Ray said that his mapping program wasn’t designed for the inclusion of text contents, or the GPS data provided by the ServPro vehicles, and that special code had to be written for both.

He also said the text message contents had to be entered by hand.

“I would not have been able to produce (a map that included all texts) in the time available,” Ray said.

On top of the extension to complete Ray’s testimony, there was also a short disruption at the end of the day as a man sitting in the gallery, who had been making various noises and outbursts, was forcibly removed from the room by deputies.

The man did not have any apparent ties to either side of the case.

With another Monday court holiday for President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Steuben County Court.


Friday's Highlights

Cross examination of expert witness Sy Ray takes full day -- redirect stretches into overtime

Only four total witnesses on stand this week

Another Monday off next week