Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stories conflict on Payne kids

By Kim Smith
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.13.2009
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Correction March 14, 2009: A story Friday on Page A15, "Stories Conflict on Payne Kids," should have said Tucson police officers testified Jamie Hallam had a letter saying the CPS investigation against her was over and that she could have the children, but the officers deferred to CPS in leaving the children with their father, Christopher Payne.
Editor's note: Readers, please be advised that the testimony in this trial is disturbing.
A former state Child Protective Services supervisor testified Thursday that she "absolutely did not" instruct Tucson police officers to leave Jamie Hallam's children with their father, Christopher Payne.
Christy Tarpley told defense attorney Rebecca McLean she was asked to participate in a brief telephone conference call between Tucson police Officer William Nutt and caseworker Cindy Graupmann on March 9, 2006.
Graupmann informed her that Hallam — Ariana and Tyler Payne's mother — was at Christopher Payne's apartment to pick up the children, Tarpley said.
Nutt wanted to know if he should give the children to Hallam, Tarpley said.
After she was told Payne, 30, had a signed court order granting him temporary custody of the children and the children appeared to be happy and healthy, Tarpley said she told Nutt, "There's your answer."
Thursday was the second day of the defense's case in Payne's capital murder trial.
Prosecutors believe Payne killed Ariana and Tyler in the summer of 2006 — months after Hallam dropped them off with Payne for what was supposed to be a weekend visit.
An autopsy showed Ariana, 3, suffered multiple broken ribs and a chipped shoulder bone in the weeks or months before she died. Four-year-old Tyler's body has never been found.
Payne is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, multiple counts of child abuse and two counts of concealment of a dead human body. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.
When interviewed by police, Payne denied physically abusing either child in any way and suggested Ariana's injuries happened while she was living with Hallam. He said CPS told him to keep the children and they starved themselves to death because they wanted to be with their mother.
Defense attorneys have also suggested Ariana was hurt before the children came to live with Payne. However, they contend Payne's live-in girlfriend, Reina Gonzales, starved the children to death. Several witnesses have testified that Gonzales was alone with the children for hours while Payne worked or sold drugs.
The 24-year-old Gonzales, who only admits not helping the children, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in exchange for a 22-year prison sentence.
At the time Hallam dropped the children off with Payne, she was being investigated for suspected child neglect and drug abuse.
Tarpley testified Hallam was uncooperative with CPS, but Payne was cooperative.
She cited the signed custody papers Nutt told her Payne had as evidence of Payne's cooperativeness. She said he'd been told to seek custody of the children by Graupmann.
Nutt and his backup officer, however, told jurors Payne's documents were not signed by any judge.
They also testified Hallam had a letter in hand saying the CPS investigation was over and she could have the children, but they deferred to CPS in leaving the children with Payne.
Tarpley insisted Thursday she specifically asked Nutt, who was speaking to her on a phone from Payne's apartment, if Payne's documents were signed and he said "yes."
When Deputy Pima County Attorney Susan Eazer asked Tarpley if she checked later whether Payne's documents were legal, Tarpley replied she didn't because she was raised to trust police officers.
Tarpley denied being present on March 1, 2006, when Graupmann called Hallam to tell her the neglect and drug abuse investigation was closed, the allegations weren't substantiated and she could pick her children up.
When Eazer showed her documents indicating Tarpley was there, Tarpley said, "I don't deny it, but I don't remember it, either."
Tarpley also insisted that despite the fact Hallam received a letter informing her the case was closed, the case was not closed.
"The case was not closed. The button was not pushed on the computer," Tarpley said.
Such letters aren't supposed to go out until after a supervisor signs off, but at that time the investigations unit was "a mess," Tarpley said.
Tarpley said she closed the case in mid-March 2006, in part because of her conversation with Nutt.
She doesn't know if anyone checked on Ariana and Tyler after March 9, 2006, but she knows she didn't tell anyone to check on them, Tarpley said.
Tarpley also said she can't verify Payne's contention that he called CPS asking for help. She personally didn't get any calls, she said.
Hallam agreed to settle her lawsuit against the state of Arizona and CPS for $1 million in June 2008. Her lawsuit against the Tucson Police Department is still pending.
When interviewed by police, Payne said he believes the children died about two months before he asked a homeless man to rent him a storage unit on North Prince Road. The lease on the unit was signed Sept. 3, 2006.
Graupmann is scheduled to testify this morning.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields is presiding over the case.
On Starnet: Follow the Payne trial on the Star's legal blog "At the Courthouse" at: go.azstarnet.com/courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com.