Andrew Dys, The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
A 53-year-old South Carolina grandmother claimed in court Thursday she was sorry for poisoning her husband with Visine eye drops, and didn’t mean to kill him.
Lana Sue Clayton also claimed her dead husband, Steven Clayton, was abusive.
“I did impulsively put the Visine in Steven’s drink, but I just did it to make him uncomfortable…” Lana Sue Clayton said in court. “I never thought it would kill him.”
Prosecutors called her claims of abuse and trying to teach her husband a lesson for the abuse a sham and preposterous.
“Having destroyed Steven Clayton himself, Lana Sue Clayton comes to court trying to destroy his reputation,” said Kevin Brackett, the 16th Circuit Solicitor. “He’s not here to say anything about it — because she killed him.”
Steven Clayton, 64, suffered for three days from the poison in July 2018 before a last, large dose of poison caused him to fall dead at the bottom of the steps of their pricey Lake Wylie mansion, prosecutors said.
The minimum sentence in the case was two years and the maximum was 50 years in prison after Lana Sue Clayton, a Veterans Affairs nurse in Charlotte with no previous criminal record, pleaded guilty Thursday to voluntary manslaughter and poisoning her husband’s drinking water.
South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch split the difference, sentencing her to 25 years in prison for a crime that Burch said was the strangest he had ever seen on the bench.
“This one takes the cake as far as being bizarre,” Burch said. “The old saying, ‘What a tangled web we weave.’ Ms. Clayton, you sure have tangled this one up.”
This is actually the second case in the Charlotte area involving allegations of a fatal poisoning by eye drops. A Gaston County, N.C., paramedic is accused of using Visine drops to kill his wife in 2018 for a big insurance payout, the Observer has reported. That case is pending.
And in Rowan County, N.C., authorities arrested a woman last year after she allegedly put eye drops in her fiance’s soda to sicken him, the Observer reported at the time.
‘She would get it all’
Burch was concerned Lana Sue Clayton continued to blame her husband, after prosecutors showed that Steven Clayton was poisoned on a Thursday and suffered until dying on a Saturday.
“How can you maintain you did this to teach him a lesson, when it is obvious from the facts that you let him suffer for three days,” Burch told Clayton in court. “You ignored him.”
Burch also said it is obvious Lana Sue Clayton hid Steven Clayton’s phone so he could not call for help
If there was abuse, Burch wondered in court why Lana Sue Clayton did not just leave.
Lana Sue Clayton did not walk out, prosecutors said. She plotted to kill him because she wanted Steven Clayton’s wealth, Brackett said.
He had asked for the maximum sentence, and said the motive for the crime was simple: Greed.
The couple was married for five years, testimony showed. Steven Clayton had retired after a successful business career and had six ex-wives but no children, Brackett said. Lana Sue Clayton destroyed Steven Clayton’s will after she killed him, Brackett said.
“Steven Clayton was worth a lot of money,” Brackett said. “She wanted his money… If there was no will, she would get it all.”
The couple lived on property worth more than $1 million on Lake Wylie near Charlotte. Steven Clayton also had more than $1 million in other assets, court records show.
In York County Criminal Court, at the end of the four-hour hearing, Lana Sue Clayton apologized.
“I am so sorry,” she said in court.
Yet she said that “ongoing abuse” at the hands of her husband led to an impulsive choice that leaves her ashamed.
Lana Sue Clayton said after finding the poison caused her husband’s death, she tried to kill herself. “I could not live with myself,” she said.
Yet she maintained that her poisoning of her husband was to make him sick, not kill him.
“I never meant for this to happen.” she said.
Her lawyers, Harry Dest and York County Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, claimed that Lana Sue Clayton should get a short sentence because she endured abuse.
The lawyers said said in court that she was a good, caring person. Twice early in her life, as a child and in the military long before she met Steven Clayton, Lana Sue Clayton was raped, Dest said.
Lana Sue Clayotn poisoned her husband with a small dose of Visine, Dest said, but did not plan to kill him. “Something did snap. It was too much for her to bear,” Dest said.
Barrowclough said Lana Sue Clayton did not plot or plan the crime, and although she admitted to a small dose of the poison, she did not intend to kill her husband.
“We believe it was one time, with no premeditation, and was done after incidents of verbal abuse,” Barrowclough said.
Barrowclough also said Lana Sue Clayton is not the greedy “monster” prosecutors make her out to be.
Barrowclough said the two-year minimum sentence, and no more than five years, was appropriate.
‘She fooled a lot of people’
Steven Clayton’s family and friends urged the judge, not to buy Lana Sue Clayton’s phony claims of being a victim.
They described in court how most people were fooled by Lana Sue Clayton for the nearly five years that she and Steven Clayton were married.
Only after Lana Sue Clayton was arrested in August 2018, a month after the crime, did the people who loved Steven Clayton realize they had been duped by a woman who was described in court by the victim’s friends and family as a “monster,” “manipulator” and “devious and vicious.”
Those who loved Steven Clayton said the investigation showed Lana Sue Clayton plotted and planned the killing and made Steven Clayton suffer for days before he died an awful death.
“She fooled a lot of people — and she almost got away with it,” said Rose Marie Clayton, Steven Clayton’s sister.
Steven Clayton’s goddaughter, Lourdes Alvarez, begged the judge not to be fooled by Lana Sue Clayton.
No death penalty
Prosecutors Willy Thompson said the type of poison used in this case isn’t normally tested for but was found by a private lab.
“She almost got away with it,” Thompson said. But the toxicology test showed the Visine poison.
“She deserves to stay in prison for the rest of her life,” Brackett said.
Clayton had been charged with murder and could have faced the death penalty if the case went to trial. Prosecutors, along with Clayton and her lawyers, agreed to the plea deal, testimony showed Thursday.
Steven Clayton was a retired businessman originally from Florida. The couple lived in an estate that was a replica of Mount Vernon, and Steven Clayton was found dead at the bottom of a staircase July 21, 2018.
The case received international attention after The Herald first reported the arrest. Friends were shocked and the case was featured by People.Com, the New York Post, Dateline and news outlets in Australia and England.
The Herald also reported that in 2016, Lana Sue Clayton went to the York County Sheriff’s Office to report she had shot her husband in the head with a crossbow. She and her husband told police it was an accident and no charges were filed.
After his death, York County Sheriff’s Office detectives and York County Coroner officials said toxicology reports revealed he died from poisoning.
Lana Sue Clayton attempted to commit suicide on Aug. 30, 2018, police said. She was arrested the next day.
©2020 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
Visit The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.) at www.heraldonline.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.