Special to The Leader
BATH | Jurors in the murder trial of Thomas Clayton began deliberations Wednesday after receiving instructions from Steuben County Judge Peter Bradstreet.
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.
Clayton was previously also charged with two counts of second-degree murder, but one, felony murder, was recently thrown out.
Bradstreet explained that for Clayton to be guilty of first-degree murder in this case, he must have intentionally hired someone to kill his wife, in exchange for something of “pecuniary value” -- basically, something worth money.
For him to be guilty of second-degree murder in the case, he must have intentionally worked in concert with someone else to bring about his wife’s death.
“Each of the attorneys has presented to you different versions and interpretations of the events leading up to and including Sept. 29, 2015,” Bradstreet said.
He told jurors that if one side or the other’s arguments made sense to them, they could accept it, or decide the facts of the case entirely independently.
Bradstreet also cautioned the jury that just because the prosecution’s case is entirely circumstantial, that doesn’t make it a weak case.
“The law draws no distinction between circumstantial evidence and direct evidence in terms of weight,” he said.
The jury began their deliberations at around 10:40 a.m.
Just after noon, they sent a note out to the court, asking to have the definitions of first- and second-degree murder repeated for them.
And later, just before 3 p.m., the jury asked to have testimony read back to them from Tammy Black, office manager at ServPro.
Black testified Feb. 16 that she had 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 believed 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.
Wetmore suggested in his closing argument that payment of that fine could have been part of a financial arrangement with Beard.
And she admitted expressing confusion when she heard that Clayton had been driving a company vehicle the night of the killing.
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.
The jury also asked for the full phone records for both Clayton and Beard for the month of September 2015.
Just before 4 p.m., they sent out a note to inform the judge that they believed they’d accomplished all the could for the day, and would like to adjourn.
Bradstreet dismissed them for the day at 4:07 p.m.
Deliberations in the case will continue beginning at 9:30 a.m. today in Steuben County Court.