Michael Beard has been found guilty in the murder trial of Kelley Clayton.
A jury on Friday found Beard guilty on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in connection Kelley’s Sept. 2015 death in her Town of Caton home.
The jury deliberated for a total of around seven hours over the course of Thursday and Friday. Kelley’s family members in attendance cried for joy upon hearing the verdict, and repeatedly said, ‘We got him,’ as they left the court house.
“Obviously we respect the jury’s verdict, it took seven hours to get there,” Kevin van Allen, one of Beard’s defense attorneys said. “We pointed out to them the issues, some of the lack of evidence in the case. We still feel strongly about that. In the meantime we’ll be speaking with our client and preserving his rights to appeal any post verdict motions that we intend to file, we’ll have to take a look at all that.”
“He kind of knew, I think,” John Putney, Beard’s other defense attorney said on Beard knowing the likely verdict. “When you’ve got a false confession, it’s an uphill battle.”
Beard is one of the three men charged in connection to the death of Kelley. He was allegedly hired by Kelley’s husband, former Elmira Jackal Thomas Clayton, to kill Kelley in the couple’s Caton home, and burn it down to cover the murder.
While Thomas has yet to go on trial for his alleged involvement in Kelley’s death, Special Prosecutor Weeden Wetmore is chalking up a win this week, but knows his work isn’t over.
“Well, it’s partial closure, but it feels good obviously, getting a guilty verdict helps them a lot,” Wetmore said. “This guy was indeed the actual hitman and this guy is a bad person, and it feels good for the family. It feels good for me to give the family some relief, but obviously we have round two coming up.”
Thomas’ trial is slated to begin Jan. 9, 2017. Meanwhile Beard’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 30. Of Beard’s charges he’s found guilty of committing, the most severe (First Degree Murder) carries a maximum possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jurors began deliberating just after 3 p.m. Thursday, following closing arguments by attorneys for the defense and prosecution and instructions from Steuben County Judge Peter Bradstreet.
The defense went first, and its closing argument lasted around 27 minutes. During that time, the defense said they agreed with “98 percent” of the evidence presented.
Even still, the defense insisted there were still too many dots that weren’t connected which linked Beard to being Kelley’s killer.
Special Prosecutor Weeden Wetmore’s closing argument lasted exactly 90 minutes.
During his closing argument, Wetmore went over Beard’s grand jury testimony, and discussed how many times Beard has changed his account of what happened, while withholding some information from police.
Wetmore also went over a large amount of evidence, namely the fact that DNA on a swab of Kelley’s blood taken from the crime scene matched Beard’s DNA profile.
Thomas Clayton is charged with first- and second-degree murder. He is currently out on bail and his trial is set to begin in January 2017.
Mark Blandford, of Elmira, is charged with second-degree murder, burglary and conspiracy. Blandford remains in Steuben County Jail and no trial date has been set.
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