A state appeals court in Rochester heard oral arguments Wednesday in an appeal filed by Thomas Clayton of his 2017 murder conviction for the killing of his wife, Kelley Stage Clayton.
A decision on the appeal is expected to be released between April 26 and May 3.
Central to the appeal is the admissibility of testimony by Sy Ray, who presented an electronic map to jurors that illustrated cell phone data showing Clayton’s movements.
Clayton’s appeal attorney, Brian Shiffrin of Rochester-based Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin LLP, called Ray’s process and testimony “unscientific.”
“Sy Ray’s testimony, in the words of the prosecutor, [was] correctly described as the ‘crux’ of the people’s case,” Shiffrin told the five-judge panel.
Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore, who prosecuted the case after the recusal of the Steuben County DA, has said what Ray presented was not “new science.”
He further argued Wednesday that it was the data, and not Ray’s presentation, that was the “crux” of the case.
“Without Sy Ray, I had a sufficient case,” Wetmore said. “If I didn’t have this, I was going to try this case.
“I produced all these data records -- this is what I was arguing I needed,” he added.
Shiffrin also argued that the prosecution failed to provide information about Ray’s testimony to the defense that would have allowed them to effectively respond to it at trial.
“The DA not only waited until the eve of trial to hire Mr. Ray, he also violated his discovery obligations by not providing information about Mr. Ray, by not providing his documents and reports until mid-trial,” Shiffrin told the court.
Wetmore argued, as he did at trial, that information about Ray and his testimony was provided to the defense as soon as it was available.
“We can’t turn over what we don’t have,” he told the judges.
Clayton’s trial attorney Ray Schlather argued repeatedly that Ray’s testimony shouldn’t be allowed, or that a hearing should be held to determine if it could be admitted in court.
Steuben County Judge Peter Bradstreet ultimately denied both requests.
Jurors concluded last year that 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.
Both men were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Clayton is housed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Beard is currently at Auburn Correctional Facility.