BATH — Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker has stepped down from the Kelley Clayton homicide case, citing personal connections to the victim and others involved in the case, including potential witnesses.
In an application for a special prosecutor filed with Judge Peter Bradstreet in Steuben County Court, Baker also stated that the potential alibi of suspect Thomas Clayton, the victim’s husband, “revolved around events occurring directly next door to my longtime family home.”
Weeden Wetmore, Chemung County district attorney, has been appointed special prosecutor in the case.
Authorities say Kelley Clayton was killed just after midnight Sept. 29 at her home on Ginnan Road in Caton. Thomas Clayton, and another man, Michael Beard of Elmira, are charged with second-degree murder and are being held in Steuben County Jail.
Baker has said he has received evidence that Kelley Clayton was killed in a murder-for-hire plot that also targeted the couple’s two young children, who were not harmed. The Steuben County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police are still investigating the case, which is expected to be presented to a Steuben County grand jury.
In moving for a special prosecutor, Baker wrote that Kelley Clayton was well known to him, and that he’d had contact with her in social settings in the past.
Baker also cited input from a growing number of her friends and their connection to him.
“As this case has progressed, a growing number of people who are more than social acquaintances have expressed their significant and longstanding positive personal relationships with the victim,” he wrote. “The number of people in this category seems to increase daily - and most of these relationships were unknown to me at the time this investigation commenced.”
He also said events in the case took place next door to his home.
“The potential ‘alibi’ in this case revolves around events occurring directly next door to my longtime family home and several potential witnesses who have been interviewed and who are likely to be involved in future proceedings have been either neighbors or friends for more than 10 years,” he wrote to Judge Bradstreet.
Thomas Clayton’s defense attorney, Ray Schlather, said during his client’s bail hearing Monday that GPS records proved Clayton was out playing poker with six other men in Corning on the night his wife was killed, and that he'd come home and found her dead and called 911.
Schlather said Clayton was innocent and called the prosecution’s case flimsy. He claimed the other suspect, Beard, held a grudge against Clayton because he was fired from the business where they had worked together in Elmira, was trying to “shake down” Clayton down for money, and had falsely implicated Clayton in the killing.
In asking for a special prosecutor, Baker stated that no actual conflict existed, but noted a number of difficult decisions involving charging, grand jury and potential plea negotiations needed to be made soon.
Baker has said he may seek an indictment for first-degree murder due to the alleged murder-for-hire plot, a higher level felony which means the possibility of life without parole for the suspects if convicted.
“This case is too important to allow even the potential appearance of a conflict to undermine or interfere with the administration of justice, making now the appropriate time for this application,” Baker said in a statement late Friday afternoon regarding his decision.
Wetmore indicated he’d begin reviewing the case immediately.
“Obviously, I have to sit down with the investigators so I can be brought up to speed,” Wetmore said. “There are quite a few leads that have been generated that I have to look at.”
Thomas Clayton was arrested Sept. 29 and charged with second-degree murder. He was released on $250,000 bail Oct. 5 following the bail hearing before Bradstreet, despite arguments from Baker that he feared for the Clayton children’s safety if their father were granted bail.
On Oct. 7, Clayton was arrested again for allegedly having a text message sent to the woman taking care of his children in an attempt to contact them, thus allegedly violating an order of protection. Clayton was charged with second-degree criminal contempt, a Class A misdemeanor, and bail was set at $500,000 on the contempt charge.
As of Friday evening, Clayton remained in Steuben County Jail and hadn’t posted bail.
Beard is represented by William Kelley of the Steuben County Public Defender’s Office. It is unclear if Kelley has sought a bail hearing for Beard.
Authorities have said Kelley Clayton was beaten with a weapon. They haven’t disclosed what type of weapon or if the weapon has been recovered. Authorities have been tight-lipped about what they believe led to the killing.
Kelley Clayton is an Elmira native and 1998 Elmira Free Academy graduate. She worked at the Woodhouse Stadium Grill in Corning, and often volunteered at Carder Elementary School in Corning.
Thomas Clayton is a Binghamton native who played pro hockey for the Elmira Jackals in the early 2000’s.