Sunday, November 18, 2012

Payne jury begins death penalty deliberations

A Pima County jury began deliberations Monday afternoon in the sentencing phase of Christopher M. Payne’s double first-degree murder case.

He faces sentences of death by lethal injection, life in prison without parole or a minimum of 35 years in prison for killing two of his children by starving them to death in 2006.

In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney John O’Brien said Payne was addicted to heroin during that period and because of his substance abuse he wasn’t entirely responsible for his actions.

County prosecutor Susan Eazer said Payne was not so impaired that he did not know right from wrong.

He didn’t harm his other son, now 3, who also lived with him at the time, along with his girlfriend Reina Irene Gonzales, 24, the mother of that child.

The 3-year-old was well fed and in good physical condition, Eazer said, while Ariana Payne, 3, and Tyler Payne, 4, were slowly starved to death, locked in a closet and physically battered by their father.

Payne admitted putting their bodies in a plastic bin and putting the bin in a storage locker while he continued to care for his other son.

The boy is in the state foster care system. Gonzales pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 22-year prison sentence.

Payne said the children starved themselves until they looked like “Ethiopians” because he told them he would not return them to their mother, Jamie Hallam.

Payne, 30, said he didn’t seek help for the two children when they stopped eating because he didn’t want to get into trouble.

Defense attorneys said Payne suffered from the death of his mother when he was 14 months old and from a lack of supervision by his father.

Eazer pointed out that Forrest Payne, the father, signed Payne into a private psychiatric hospital here when he was a young teen to try to curb his blossoming drug use.

Eazer said Christopher Payne nevertheless began years of drug abuse. He took “acid,” ate mushrooms, drank alcohol, smoked pot and used heroin, she said.

Eazer said he held a job driving a van for elderly medical patients while he was using heroin up to four times a day.

Payne preyed on his family for years to get money from his father to pay his bills or anything else he needed, Eazer said.

She said he went to his sister and asked for Christmas gifts in late 2006 or early 2007 for Ariana and Tyler, “who he knew were (dead and) stored away in a storage locker.”

O’Brien asked the jury to “consider the totality of the person” and not just the crime.

“There is a goodness in that man that became tremendously lost and he lacked the skills and the ability to do something about that,” O’Brien said. “It borders on the absurd to say there is no connection between Chris’s early childhood development and the murders.”

Deliberations resume Tuesday. The jury convicted him March 17 of two counts of first-degree murder and other counts.