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Ex-CPS worker’s blog comments clog Payne trial

Payne

Payne

A prosecutor’s questions about confidential child welfare reports and a former caseworker’s comments on a Tucson Citizen blog interrupted Christopher Mathew Payne’s capital murder trial Thursday.

Former Arizona Child Protective Services caseworker Cindy Graupmann had just taken the stand late Thursday afternoon when Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer lodged an objection.

After the jury was dismissed, Eazer told Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard S. Fields that the defense hadn’t disclosed that it had unredacted CPS records it shouldn’t have had.

Fields told attorneys to come back earlier than usual Friday to continue discussing the matter as well as an earlier situation involving Graupmann and blog comments.

Graupmann admitted to Eazer that she had made comments on the Tucson Citizen’s trial blog that disparaged Jamie Hallam, the mother of Ariana and Tyler Payne and Payne’s ex-wife.

“The saddest part is that Jamie Hallam is responsible just as much as Christopher Payne,” Graupmann, who is unemployed, wrote March 3 under a fictitious name.

Eazer wants to use Graupmann’s comments to impeach her testimony.

“Aside from the bias the witness brings into the courtroom, as a CPS worker, one of the things that she blogged about contained information about a subsequent case that clearly she learned about while still working for CPS that was totally confidential,” Eazer said.

“She is breaking every rule known to CPS, that CPS has out there, which is exactly what she and her supervisor did March 9,” Eazer said.

Eazer was referring to the 2006 incident in which Graupmann and her supervisor Christy Tarpley advised police to allow Payne to keep his children despite a signed court order giving custody to Hallam. Hallam had complained to police in 2006 that Payne had taken the children for a visit and refused to return them. She called police, who went to Payne’s house and then called CPS.

“I never told the officer to do that,” Tarpley testified Thursday. “I told him if he had the court paper, that was the answer.”

Tarpley said she remembered talking to Officer William Nutt, who testified previously that Tarpley told him to leave the children with Payne, because she “laughed about his name.”

Despite a CPS letter dated March 1, 2006, that cleared Hallam of an unsubstantiated charge, Tarpley said the case wasn’t closed then.

“The button was not pushed,” Tarpley said, explaining that the unit issuing the letter was “a mess” at that time.

Prosecutors say Payne kept the children after Hallam left them for the visit because he didn’t want to pay child support. When his girlfriend, Reina Irene Gonzales, complained of caring for them, Payne shut them in a closet and starved them to death over a period of months in 2006.

Ariana’s body was found in February 2007. Tyler’s body has never been found.

Defense attorneys say Gonzales abused and starved the children. Payne faces the death penalty if he’s convicted on either of two first-degree murder charges.

Hallam settled a lawsuit against CPS, Graupmann and Tarpley for $1 million. A suit against Tucson police is pending.

Earlier, Tarpley questioned why she was even called to testify for the defense.

“I didn’t look at any of this and I really don’t care,” Christy Tarpley said, when shown reports on the case.

“I was shocked when I got a subpoena yesterday and I’m just trying to figure out what I’m doing here,” said Tarpley, who now works for the Pascua Yaqui tribe.

“Just another CPS nightmare,” she said, shrugging.

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