Now that Christopher Payne has been convicted of murdering his two young children and sentenced to death, it is appropriate to pause and recall the short lives of Ariana and Tyler Payne – and forever remember the lessons learned from their tragic deaths.
This much is clear: There were mistakes made by several agencies. But in the end, only one person – Christopher Payne – was responsible for the deaths of the children.
It was a shocking and horrifying incident. The children – 3 and 4 years old – were locked in a closet in Payne’s apartment while he cared for his third child, a son he had with his live-in girlfriend.
Ariana and Tyler had broken bones and apparently were starved to death. The remains of Ariana were found in a storage locker. Tyler’s body never was found, although authorities believe it was dumped in a landfill.
Throughout his trial, Payne tried to deflect blame, saying the Legislature and its investigation of the state’s Child Protective Services, launched in the wake of his children’s death, was to blame for his legal problems.
That obviously is nonsense – the desperate attempts of a man to escape responsibility for his own horrid actions.
Nonetheless, investigations after the children’s deaths showed the state could – and should – have done far more to protect Ariana and Tyler.
One of the biggest problems uncovered was CPS’ lack of cooperation with law enforcement. Although a court awarded full custody of the Payne children to their mother, CPS officials told police to leave them with Payne.
CPS workers never checked custody documents that showed Payne had been denied any contact with his children and had a history of domestic violence. And CPS did not check his criminal record before allowing the children to be placed with him.
Payne’s ex-wife won a $1 million settlement from CPS as a result of a civil lawsuit – a paltry amount when it comes to the lives of two young children.
Legislative changes have been made to streamline CPS processes, compel the agency to work more closely and effectively with law enforcement and make their operations more transparent. All were designed to prevent another tragedy.
But legislative memories are short. This year, 159 caseworkers and investigators’ jobs were eliminated to save money. That left the already inadequate staff 15 percent smaller than it was a year ago.
State Sen. Jonathan Paton, a Tucson Republican who drove the CPS reforms, said the cuts “will result in dead kids.”
Arizona must have no more dead kids. Budgets – regardless of how stretched they are – must take that into account.
And that must be the legacy of the brief lives – and the horrific deaths – of Ariana and Tyler Payne.