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Mom testifies about learning of her kids’ deaths

At Payne trial, she cries while describing how daughter found

Jamie Hallam kept her composure for the most part when she was called to the stand to testify about her children, Ariana and Tyler Payne, who allegedly were killed by their father.

Hallam cried briefly when she recalled being told by police that Ariana’s body had been found and that Tyler, whose body has not been found, was presumed dead.

Prosecutors say Christopher Mathew Payne, 30, starved his children to death several months before Ariana’s badly decomposed body was found on Feb. 19, 2007.

Ariana’s remains were inside a garbage bag in a designer tote bag inside a plastic tub abandoned at a North Side storage unit.

Hallam, 32, testified police contacted her in February 2007 about her children, whom she hadn’t seen in more than a year.

“We’d previously heard that a little girl was found in a storage unit, but her estimated age at the time was 2, but something didn’t make (sense), didn’t sound right,” Hallam said.

Ariana was 3 when Hallam last saw her, but she would have been 4 in February 2007.

Hallam, who now lives out of state, braced herself for the news that the girl’s remains were Ariana’s, but held out hope that Tyler was still alive.

But Hallam got the worst possible news once she got to the police station.

“They said that the girl in the storage unit was most likely my daughter and that Tyler was most likely deceased,” Hallam said, crying.

Moments later, Hallam’s mood turned to soft laughter as she described her two children to jurors.

Hallam said Tyler was a “rambunctious” boy who liked to play with his trucks and ride his bike, which had training wheels. He was a mama’s boy who followed her everywhere and was very protective of his sister.

Ariana was a happy child, Hallam said.

“She liked to color. She loved to color, pencils, markers, crayons, everything,” Hallam said.

Tyler was a picky eater, but Ariana usually ate everything on her plate, as well as whatever her finicky brother left, Hallam said, smiling.

When Hallam left the children at Payne’s apartment, they were happy and clean, she said. Hallam had packed enough clothes for a weekend visit, which Payne kept extending.

Neither of the children had ever been taken to the hospital with serious injuries when they were in Hallam’s care, she testified.

Defense attorneys say the children were abused by either Hallam or one of her boyfriends and that they arrived at Payne’s apartment “scrawny” and dirty.

Testimony continues Friday with the lead detective and an officer who interviewed Payne after his March 1, 2007, arrest.

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