Jury Finds Clayton Guilty

02.24.17 | Bob Price

After deliberating for nearly six hours, a jury has found Thomas Clayton guilty of first- and second-degree murder in connection with the Sept. 29, 2015 death of his wife, Kelley.

Clayton was immediately taken into custody and will be sentenced in early May.

"It's been a year and half, I've never seen a case like this, we've never seen a case like this that consumed all our time," Special Prosecutor Weeden Wetmore said. "I guess the words that express this is 'tremendous relief.' After all that work, thank goodness we got the right result."

"This is probably the most complicated case I've ever been involved in," Steuben County Sheriff James Allard said. "The sheer number of leads and actors, and items of evidence that were followed up on, the technical evidence, the digital evidence, all unlike any other case I've been a part of."

After the verdict was announced, the family and friends of Kelley Clayton erupted into tears of joy and relief. The crowds of friends and family flooded the parking lot of the courthouse, hugging one another and celebrating the verdict.

"I told my sister from the night she was murdered that we would not stop fighting for her, that we would not stop for justice for her," Kelley's sister, Kim Bourgeois, said. "She was beautiful, bright, and she's still bright, the sun is out with us right now, and she is here."

"'There's no words, there are no words," Kim said. "Everyone's time, the time that everyone has spent here to make sure that justice was served for Kelley. The support the community has given us, no one gave up on justice for her"

"No one won in this, no one did. Just thank you for everything," Kelley's mother, Liz Stage, said. "We have a strong family and it has shown through. The community has been so behind us, it's unbelievable. Just, thank you, thank you. I believe justice was done here today, I do."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the courtroom, tears shed for the opposite reason, as the family and defense maintain Thomas' innocence.

"There's a real concern that what has happened here is not real justice but it is our system," Thomas' defense attorney, Ray Schlather, said. "So we will go to the next venue and we will continue fighting to establish his innocence."

The maximum penalty for the first-degree murder conviction is life in prison without parole. The second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

"This was a crime committed in secret. There were no admissions made, as you know there were no eyewitnesses, it was all circumstantial (evidence)," Special Prosecutor Wetmore said. "I think it does put some faith back perhaps in the justice system- that we can get justice, with good, old fashioned hard work and good police work."

Clayton's defense attorney Ray Schlather announced during closing arguments on Tuesday that a second-degree murder charge in relation to attempted arson had been dropped. 

The jury of nine men and three women received instructions from Judge Peter Bradstreet and began their deliberations at 10:37 a.m. Wednesday. Around 12:30 p.m., the jury briefly returned to the courtroom to have Judge Bradstreet read back definition of charges against Clayton. Court adjourned for the day around 4:10 p.m.

Deliberations resumed briefly Thursday morning before a verdict was reached around 10 a.m.

Prosecutors say Clayton, a Binghamton native and former Elmira Jackals hockey player, hired a former employee, Michael Beard, to kill Kelley.

The prosecution rested on Feb. 15 after calling 65 witnesses throughout the trial. The defense began presenting its case that day and rested on Feb. 17 after calling a total of 10 witnesses. 

Beard was found guilty in November 2016 of first- and second-degree murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27.

A third man, Mark Blandford, also faces charges in connection with Kelley's murder. Blandford is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of burglary and two counts of conspiracy. Those charges will be reduced to second-degree manslaughter in exchange for his testimony. He is currently in Steuben County Jail.