YORK COUNTY, S.C. — A woman accused of killing her husband by poisoning him with eye drops pleaded guilty Thursday to voluntary manslaughter and tampering with a food or drug.
Lana Clayton was sentenced to 25 years behind bars.
“She fooled one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known in my life,” Clayton’s sister, Rosemarie Clayton-Leslie, told ABC’s Good Morning America after the sentencing. “My brother died a horrific death. I think my brother was screaming for his life.”
York County detectives said Lana Clayton confessed to the crime, which garnered national attention in 2018.
Prosecutors said Lana Clayton poisoned Steven Clayton with eye drops over several days then ignored him as he was dying.
She had been held in the York County Jail ever since she was charged with her husband’s murder a year and a half ago.
Investigators said Lana Clayton confessed to spiking her husband’s water with eye drops over the summer of 2018. Court documents show she started using the deadly chemical on July 19.
Her husband, Steven Clayton, was found dead at the foot of the stairs inside the couple’s Lake Wylie home two days later.
In court Thursday, deputy solicitor Willy Thompson detailed Steven Clayton’s autopsy. He said Lana Clayton likely knew the eye drops were tasteless and odorless and would not be detected if she mixed them into her husband’s water.
The prosecutor said when Lana Clayton realized that police started to suspect murder and not a natural death, she told them her husband would put Visine in his coffee all the time to induce bowel movements.
Experts called that ludicrous.
The active ingredient in eye drops works by constricting blood vessels.
In court, it was revealed that Lana Clayton told officers she was mad at her husband and “wanted him to suffer.” She was his seventh wife. She claimed Steven Clayton was abusive to her and that she tried to kill herself before her arrest by taking pills and turning on the gas in the stove. She also apparently left a suicide note.
Lana Clayton’s defense lawyer said she was sexually abused by an uncle as a child and was later raped on a military base. He said she kept it to herself for years and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She became a nurse with the VA and worked in Charlotte until her arrest.
Lana Clayton said she was abused by her husband who “hit her, kicked her and choked her.” Former public defender Harry Dest said the abuse lasted throughout their five-year marriage.
She stood before her husband’s family and apologized.
“I allowed these emotions to make me do something in a matter of seconds that I will forever regret,” Lana Clayton said. "I did impulsively put the Visine in Steven’s drink, and I did it with the intent to make him sick and uncomfortable. I was upset about the abuse and just wanted him to leave me alone.”
Prosecutors said they investigated but didn’t find evidence related to abuse.
Prosecutors also spoke about a strange incident with a crossbow in 2016. Lana Clayton said she accidentally shot her husband in the head with a crossbow while he slept. At the time, they both agreed it was an accident.
Prosecutors said Lana Clayton killed her husband for his money and then burned his will. They also think she threw Steve Clayton’s cellphone in the lake so he could not call for help after she poisoned him. They asked the judge to sentence Lana Clayton to the maximum of 50 years in prison.
Friends and family of Steve Clayton were emotional as they gave impact statements inside the courtroom. Through tears, Steve Clayton’s goddaughter said, “Lana has fooled a lot of people. Please don’t let her fool you.”
Steve Clayton’s sister also spoke, telling the judge she was “sickened to be in the same room with the monster who killed my brother.”
She said without Steve Clayton, Lana was nothing.
At the time, neighbors told Channel 9 they were shocked to learn what happened at the couple’s million-dollar home on Island Forks Road on Lake Wylie.
Before Thursday’s plea deal, a trial date had not been set but Clayton could have faced life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Murder using eye drops is rare but police believe it happened again recently in Mount Holly.
In December, police arrested Joshua Hunsucker, accusing him of killing his wife, Stacy, by putting eye drops in her drinks for weeks.
A vial of her saved tissue later indicated she was poisoned.
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