Prosecutor: Ex-hockey pro had wife killed in murder for hire

CATON, N.Y. (AP) An upstate New York woman was slain inside her home in a suspected murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by her husband, a former professional hockey player, a prosecutor said Monday.

Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker made the accusation during a bail hearing for Thomas Clayton, 37, who is charged with second-degree murder.

His 35-year-old wife, Kelley, was found dead Sept. 29 in the couple’s home in rural Caton, on the Pennsylvania border. Clayton played hockey at Niagara University before playing for Elmira’s mid-level minor league hockey team from 2002-2006.

Authorities over the weekend announced they had also charged 44-year-old Michael Beard, of Elmira, with second-degree murder. He is an acquaintance of Thomas Clayton’s. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he has an attorney.

Police responded to the couple’s home when Thomas Clayton called 911 at 12:39 a.m. to report finding his wife dead on the floor. Officials said Kelley Clayton suffered severe facial injuries, but they haven’t said how she was killed or actually carried out the slaying. The couple’s young children, both younger than 10, were home at the time. They weren’t harmed.

”The general information we have is that this may be a murder-for-hire situation,” Baker said after the hearing in county court, where the judge set bail at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond.

Clayton remained in jail Tuesday afternoon.

His lawyer, Ray Schlather, said Clayton is innocent and has an alibi. Clayton was playing poker with six other people in nearby Corning from around 8 p.m. Sept. 28 until arriving home shortly after midnight. That’s when he found his wife’s body and called 911, Schlather said.

”He has cooperated with police fully,” Schlather told The Associated Press, adding that ”there’s absolutely no truth” to Baker’s claims that Clayton arranged to have his wife killed.

Schlather said GPS records from his client’s vehicle proved his whereabouts at the time of the slaying. Those records were submitted Friday, and Beard was charged the next day, Schlather said.

Beard is a former employee of Thomas Clayton’s fire and water damage restoration business who was recently fired, Schlather said.