Hugo Clayton

In November 2003, Hugo Clayton — a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala — stabbed his adopted mother to death over a dispute about working in his adopted father’s painting business.

Hugo’s early childhood in Guatemala was bleak: he was an orphan and spent much of the first 7 years of his life on the streets, then 5 years in an orphanage. He suffered from “major depressive disorder, reactive attachment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and brief reactive psychosis.” Hugo was adopted in 2002 from Guatemala by 33-year-old Debra Jean Clayton and her husband Keith, a couple living in Lexington County, South Carolina. The Clayton family were raising 8 children (5 biological, 3 adopted), all whom Debra Jean homeschooled while her husband worked. The family was religious.

James Metts, a Lexington County sheriff, reported that the teenager killed Debra Jean because “he was upset about restrictions that were imposed him…for disobeying his parents.” The restrictions were language-based: Hugo was being required by his parents “to speak only English.” His act of disobedience was refusing “to go to work in the family painting business.” Keith said the family was “an army at war with Satan.”

On the day of the murder, Hugo stabbed Debra Jean multiple times with a knife, then hid the knife under his bed. Debra Jean ultimately died from bleeding to death. A memorial service was held for her at the Calvary Chapel in Lexington.

On November 14, 2003, Hugo was charged with murder, the charge later being changed to voluntary manslaughter. In July 2005, Hugo — then 16 — pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Keith was at a loss to explain his adopted son’s actions, saying, “He was a good kid when he lived here. It’s just inexplainable.”