Jeff Murray Elmira Star-Gazette
Published 8:58 AM EDT Nov 2, 2018
It’s been more than more than two years since the brutal murder of Kelley Stage Clayton — an act that shocked Twin Tiers residents and kept them spellbound through months of investigations and court cases.
Before the emotional wounds had a chance to heal over, they were made raw again by the recent appeal filed by Thomas Clayton, convicted of first-degree murder for the death of his wife.
Now, a major network news program is revisiting the high-profile case and how it changed the lives of two families and numerous other people forever.
ABC’s news magazine “20/20” will air an episode Friday focused on the Clayton case and its aftermath.
ABC covered much of the case as it developed over the months following Kelley Clayton’s murder, as did other national news media.
ABC correspondent Deborah Roberts, who spent time in the area interviewing several of the people involved in the case, said this was a good time to take a fresh look.
“This crime shook up this small community. All the elements were there — a young, lovely mom, a husband who was very charismatic and a former professional hockey player,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of elements that made it intriguing. Then add the cast of characters.
“We spoke with the couple (Clayton) played poker with, and they are still so shaken by this story,” she said. “We realized this is something this whole area hasn’t gotten over. Also, there are so many elements coming back into the public consciousness because of the Clayton appeal.”
More: Thomas Clayton files appeal in his conviction of murdering wife Kelley Clayton
Kelley Clayton was killed in her Town of Caton home around midnight Sept. 29, 2015, while Thomas was in Corning playing poker with friends.
Suspicion immediately fell on Thomas Clayton, and by the end of the week, investigators concluded that Clayton had hired former employee Michael Beard to kill his wife for $10,000.
Both men were charged with first-degree murder. They were both eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
When producing a narrative about a local crime for a national audience, Roberts said the hour-long format gives her team an opportunity at the outset to establish a sense of place and introduce the viewer to New York’s Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region.
But the locations and other specifics about the case are secondary to the drama — a story even more shocking when one considers something like it can happen anywhere and at any time, Roberts said.
“At the end of day, it can be anyplace in America. People can relate to a small town, a tight-knit family, a family that works hard and feels close about kids and family connections,” she said.
More: 10 things to know about the Thomas Clayton murder-for-hire case
“People can relate to that. (Kelley) was smitten by this guy,” Roberts said. “It doesn’t matter where it happens. It’s just a very interesting story, an intriguing story, a heartbreaking story. It grabs you by the throat when you talk about children being involved. The intrigue of a powerful story transcends location.”
Roberts spent a fair amount of time with Kelley Clayton’s sister Kim Bourgeois, who is now raising Kelley’s two young children along with her own.
Bourgeois gave ABC permission to air a taped law enforcement interview with Kelley’s daughter Charlie, who was 7 at the time of her mother’s death. The tape has never been aired publicly, Roberts said.
In addition to Bourgeois, the “20/20” team interviewed Steuben County sheriff’s deputy Dean Swan, the first officer on the scene of the crime; Greg and Lucky Miller, the couple who hosted the poker game the night of the crime; Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore, the special prosecutor on the case; Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard; New York State Police investigators Jim Vaughn and Brian Kozemko; Andrea Spirawk and Abbe Tipton, Kelley’s two best friends; and Mike Strobel, former announcer for the Elmira Jackals.
ABC also reached out to members of Thomas Clayton’s family, and to Clayton and Beard themselves, but all of them declined to be interviewed, Roberts said.
Roberts, who has been a journalist since 1982 and a “20/20” correspondent since 1995, according to ABC’s website, has covered emotional murder cases before.
But she said this one was especially disturbing.
“Just the sheer brutality of this one, the families involved, just the heartland kind of feel — to have a daughter who was so idealistic and have her so brutally murdered in a place nobody would expect it — to have something so ugly there, it is one that really grabbed me and shook me a little bit,” Roberts said.
More: Thomas Clayton guilty of murder in wife’s death
“In this community, people truly never would have expected that to happen here,” she said. “To have the husband convicted of having her killed — that is jarring. The children were home when this happened and survived. There was something particularly mind-blowing about this story.”
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- The “20/20” episode examining the Thomas Clayton murder case will air at 10 p.m. Eastern Time Friday on ABC. The episode will also be available for viewing in its entirety on the ABC website after its air date at abcnews.go.com/2020.
Related: Blandford gets 3-6 years for role in Clayton murder
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