Clay pleads guilty with plea agreement; testifies against alleged accomplices
by LAURA HAYES
The getaway driver in the murder of a Winona man will be released on Monday as part of a plea deal struck in which she will provide testimony against the alleged shooter and his alleged accomplices.
In court on Friday, February 12, Kayla Mae Clay, 19, of Galesville, Wis., admitted that she drove away from the scene of the crime on October 18 where Adam Tylor Fort, 31, was shot and killed in his apartment on Gilmore Avenue. In her testimony, Clay told the court that Lonnie Lavonte Keymone Hudson, 24, of Moose Lake, Minn., — Fort’s alleged shooter — had a gun in his pocket and blood on his pants leaving Fort’s apartment and described a later shopping spree with the alleged accomplices funded by money taken from the apartment.
When asked by Assistant County Attorney George Kennedy if she remembered anything being said by Hudson on the drive from Winona to La Crosse after the murder, Clay said, “Yes, I remember him saying he hopes someone doesn’t die.”
In October, officers responded to a report of a shooting at a residence on the 1200 block of Gilmore Avenue where Fort had been shot in the abdomen, provided medical care, and was later pronounced dead.
Seven individuals were indicted by a grand jury in relation to Fort’s murder: Clay, Hudson, Reginald Alexander Burnett Jr., 19, of Joliet, Ill., Ashleigh Ann Bye, 21, of La Crosse, Tyesha Lyn Williams, 23, of La Crosse, Richard Gordon Deppe, 23, of Winona, and Cornelius Conrad Dunnigan, 21, of Lewiston.
Clay was initially indicted on charges of aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the first degree), aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the second degree), and aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (aggravated robbery in the first degree). According to Clay’s plea deal, these charges will be dismissed and she will plead guilty to aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (assault in the second degree), which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The grand jury charged Hudson with murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, assault in the second degree, ineligible person in possession of a firearm and aggravated robbery in the first degree. He faces a potential sentence of life in prison.
The grand jury indicted Burnett, who Clay described as her boyfriend, and who was allegedly in Fort’s apartment when he was killed, with murder in the first degree (aid and abet), murder in the second degree (aid and abet), aggravated robbery in the first degree (aid and abet), and three counts of assault in the second degree.
Bye and Williams, who Clay testified that she knew, were two of four previously unknown suspects. Clay said that she knew Bye growing up and that she was her roommate. Bye faces charges of aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the first degree), aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the second degree), aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (aggravated robbery in the first degree), and perjury.
Clay testified that she met Williams once before, describing her as “Lonnie’s baby mama.” She was indicted by the grand jury on charges of aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the first degree), aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (murder in the second degree), and aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (aggravated robbery in the first degree).
Deppe and Dunnigan were also previously unknown suspects prior to the grand jury indictment. Deppe was charged by the grand jury for controlled substance conspiracy and three counts of aiding an accomplice after the fact, and Dunnigan faces charges of controlled substance conspiracy.
Clay’s defense attorney Kurt Knuesel said in an interview that Clay will be released on Monday and will return for sentencing in March. “I think what the court heard is that my client had nothing to do with the murder of Mr. Fort,” Knuesel said.
He added that while she made decisions that she regrets, the charges reflect the level of her culpability. “My client has been cooperating with law enforcement from when she was arrested,” Knuesel said. “The state wouldn’t be where they are in the investigation without her.”
Burnett, Clay said, asked her to drive her car to Winona to purchase marijuana on the night of the murder. Clay, Hudson, and Burnett picked up a man, who she said she did not get a good look at but knew that he was white. She testified that it was only the four of them in the car.
When they got to an apartment building, Clay said that Hudson, Burnett, and the man went inside while she stayed inside the car.
According to court documents, a witness was contacted by Hudson to set up a purchase of a quarter pound of marijuana at Fort’s apartment. The witness said that he performed a secret knock to alert those inside not to open the door because he did not know one of the men and was uncomfortable. Witnesses said that the two suspects — allegedly Hudson and Burnett — entered the apartment and demanded money before Fort was fatally shot.
Clay testified that after 10 minutes, Hudson and Burnett came out of the apartment with a white trash bag. She said that Hudson had a gun in his pocket and blood on his pants.
Kennedy asked Clay if Hudson said anything. She responded, “He was yelling at me, telling me to drive.”
“Did you think someone was shot?” Kennedy asked.
“Yes,” Clay answered.
From the scene, Clay said that they drove to her La Crosse apartment. During the drive, Clay said that Burnett and Hudson recorded videos on their phones of them with the money allegedly taken from Fort's apartment.
When they arrived at her apartment, Clay said that Hudson, Burnett, and Bye were all present. Hudson and Burnett went into the living room and counted the money, she said. Clay reported that there was approximately $5,000 and Burnett gave her $600.
“Did you see the gun ever again?” Kennedy asked.
“No,” Clay responded. She said that Burnett told her not to go into her dresser drawer. Officers later reported finding a gun in Clay’s apartment.
Judge Jeffrey Thompson granted the prosecution’s motion to take a DNA sample from Hudson and Burnett. Part of Clay's plea deal included that she also provide a DNA sample — which prosecutors sought with an earlier motion that was denied by Judge Mary Leahy.
Clay stated that after leaving Fort's apartment with the bag of cash, she, Burnett, and Hudson went to the mall where she bought new shoes for $180. Hudson, she said, bought an Xbox.
That night, Clay said that she stayed at a hotel with Hudson, Burnett, and Williams.
“Who’s idea was it to stay at the hotel?” Kennedy asked.
“Lonnie’s,” Clay answered. She said that she used the money given to her by Burnett to pay for the two rooms.
Afterward, Clay said that she and Burnett traveled to Illinois, spending the night in a hotel. Kennedy asked her if they talked about what happened.
Clay responded that she tried asking Burnett about what happened at the apartment. “He would tell me to drop it and don’t worry about it,” she said.
She said that she didn’t know what had happened until she was taken into custody by law enforcement on October 22. She also said that she did not attempt to contact authorities.
Judge Nancy Buytendorp found Clay guilty of aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact (assault in the second degree). Buytendorp dismissed Clay’s other charges. Clay will appear in court again in late March and will be released from custody on Monday.