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Payne jurors can’t hear of ex’s alleged threats to kids

Christopher Mathew Payne’s defense team was thwarted Wednesday in its attempt to present evidence intended to deflect blame to ex-girlfriend Reina Irene Gonzales.

The defense wanted to elicit testimony from Gonzales and convicted drug dealer Debbie Reyes about allegations that Gonzales threatened to kill Ariana Payne and Tyler Payne.

Defense lawyers contend that Gonzales abused and starved the children to death, not Payne.

Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer objected to such testimony, especially since Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard S. Fields ruled previously that the state couldn’t present alleged domestic violence acts involving Payne, Gonzales and Payne’s ex-wife, Jamie Hallam.

“He has a very violent temper,” Eazer said. “He has a rage within him. And the state has not been allowed to elicit any of that.”

Fields ruled Wednesday the defense could question Gonzales and Reyes again, but couldn’t ask about the alleged statements.

After jurors left for the day, Gonzales was called to the witness stand and she denied threatening the children.

Later, Reyes testified Gonzales did ask Payne to come home and take care of the kids or she would kill them, not specifying which children. Gonzales and Payne also have a child together.

The women’s testimony was put on the record for appeal purposes, but won’t be given to jurors.

Prosecutors say Payne abused Ariana and Tyler and starved them to death over several months. Ariana died first, with Tyler dying about a week or so later.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if Payne is convicted on either of two first-degree murder counts.

Earlier Wednesday, after calling Payne’s father and aunt and a friend of Gonzales to testify, prosecutors rested their case, while reserving the right to call rebuttal witnesses.

Forrest Payne said his grandchildren were “healthy as bears” when he last saw them in February 2006.

Forrest Payne also testified that he was glad to give his son money any time he wanted it and often paid for his rent and utility bills.

Forrest Payne said he advised his son to seek help from the Diocese of Tucson if he needed to feed or clothe the children, or ask his aunt or father for money.

Terry White, Payne’s paternal aunt, testified that Tyler, then 3, appeared “fine” when she saw him in April 2006, but Ariana, then 2, “looked a little scrawny.”

“She didn’t look, didn’t sound happy,” White said. “Her hair was all messed up.”

White said her nephew told her Ariana got up in the middle of the night, looking for potato chips.

“I remember telling police I felt sorry for her,” White said.

White also testified that she told police that Chris Payne wanted the children to live with him so he didn’t have to pay child support.

Months later, White visited Payne’s apartment again to deliver tamales, but she didn’t see Ariana or Tyler.

White said she told police Payne often yelled at the children and “didn’t have any patience” with them.

Carolina Calderon, a former friend of Gonzales, testified Tyler was sad and bruised when she last saw him in the middle of summer 2006.

Calderon said when Ariana and Tyler first came to live with Gonzales and Payne, they were well-behaved, clean and healthy.

The defense presented its first two witnesses, an officer who was called to Payne’s apartment regarding the children’s custody and a former co-worker.

Officer Rene Gomez testified that when he accompanied another officer to Payne’s apartment in February 2006, he didn’t see anything that concerned him about the children’s welfare.

Former co-worker Jeanne Nix testified that Gonzales called Payne up to three or four times a day from January 2006 to the end of March, when Gonzales often became angry if Payne didn’t return her calls.

Defense attorneys have refused to release a witness list, so it’s unknown how many witnesses will be called to the stand when the trial resumes Thursday morning.

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