York County wife, accused in husband’s poisoning death, gets public defender

A York County woman, accused of fatally poisoning her husband with eye drops, used to live in a $1.2 million estate on Lake Wylie. A judge ruled Wednesday that Lana Sue Clayton will get a defense lawyer paid for by South Carolina taxpayers.

Clayton says she does not have access to any of her husband’s money or property.

Clayton, 52, is accused of spiking husband Steven Clayton’s drinks for three days in July, before he fell down a flight of stairs and died in their lakefront home, a replica of George Washington’ Mount Vernon estate. Clayton told police she found her husband after he fell. His funeral was held in their back yard Aug. 4.

The death became a homicide investigation after toxicology tests showed the chemical tetrahydrozoline found in eye drops, police and coroner officials said.

Steven Clayton, 64, owned a multi-million dollar business and purchased the Island Forks Road properties during the couple’s more than four years of marriage, records show.

On Wednesday, York County’s Circuit Court Judge Dan Hall ruled that Clayton, a nurse who worked at the Veterans Administration in Charlotte before her arrest, would be appointed a public defender..

She had been denied a public defender after her arrest.

But her family hired a lawyer to show she had no access to the $820,000 home and the adjacent lakefront property, worth another $385,000, as well as vehicles, boats, bank accounts, money or other property.

“Our investigation showed that all of the property was in her husband’s name,” said lawyer Gary Lemel. “She has no access to any of it. She has no assets. She has no job or way to make a living. She has nothing.”

Clayton has been jailed without bond since her arrest Aug. 31, a day after she tried to commit suicide, police said.

Arrest warrants state Lana Clayton confessed to police that she poisoned her husband’s drinks with the eye drops. Eye drop bottles were found at the home, police said.

The poisoning death - believed to be a first for York County - has drawn worldwide attention. Following The Herald’s coverage of the arrest and subsequent stories including she shot her husband with a crossbow in 2016, the case has made international headlines.

Lana Clayton filed a probate court action, as a beneficiary of all the assets after her husband’s death, before she was charged with murder.

Following her arrest, five weeks after his death, a probate judge issued an order that a member of Steven Clayton’s family be the estate trustee. Lana Clayton had grown children from a previous relationship, but the couple had no children together.

Police and prosecutors have declined to provide an alleged motive for murder.

Sixteenth Circuit Public Defender Harry Dest and Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough were appointed to defend Clayton.

Dest said his office will conduct “its own investigation” into the police accusation that Clayton, a “well-loved and respected person,” poisoned her husband.

Dest and Barrowclough declined further comment, saying they had not yet been provided details of the police investigation.

“We are just starting the process,” Dest said. “We will mount a vigorous defense against these charges.”

In the 2016 incident, when Clayton shot her husband in the head with a crossbow as he slept, no charges were filed as both claimed it was an accident, a police report obtained by The Herald showed.

Steven Clayton told police he did not believe his wife was trying to kill him, although Lana Clayton told police he had been mentally cruel toward her, according to a police report.

It is unclear if that 2016 shooting will become part of the case against Lana Clayton.

Willy Thompson, 16th Circuit deputy solicitor, who is prosecuting the case, confirmed Lana Clayton was appointed a public defender but declined comment.

No future hearings are set in the case and it could be months or longer until a trial.

Clayton faces a minimum of 30 years in prison if convicted of murder. Murder in South Carolina carries up to life in prison. Because of the alleged poison, she could face the death penalty.

Clayton could end up with more than one public defender if prosecutors seek the death penalty. Any person in South Carolina who faces a capital trial is entitled to two lawyers, state law shows.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald


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