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Jury selection beginning in double-killing trial

Citizen Staff Writer



Prospective jurors will be brought in Tuesday for questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the capital murder trial of Christopher Mathew Payne, 30.

Payne was arrested after the decomposing body of his daughter, Ariana Payne, 4, was found in a North Side storage locker Feb. 18, 2007. The body of his son Tyler, 5, has never been found.

Questionnaires were given previously to 250 prospective jurors and, based on their answers, 87 were eliminated.

Some of the prospective jurors were eliminated because they had conflicts with the trial dates or couldn’t afford to sit on a panel for weeks at a time.

The trial is expected to extend at least until mid-March.

Others were dismissed because of their strong stance against the death penalty.

One hundred of the remaining prospective jurors will be brought in Tuesday for direct questioning. If there aren’t enough jurors for a jury of 12 and four alternates, more prospective jurors will be brought in Thursday.

While the public is allowed in during jury questioning, seating will be tight.

Deputy County Attorney Bunkye Chi said she expects opening statements may be delivered Feb. 25. However, it’s not known yet how long it will take to pick a jury.

After openings are delivered, prosecutors will begin presenting witnesses, including Payne’s former live-in girlfriend, Reina Irene Gonzales. Gonzales, 24, also faced first-degree murder charges and the death penalty, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Payne.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard S. Fields recently allowed prosecutors to use statements Payne made over a five-hour period on March 1, 2007, while he was being questioned by police.

At that time, police had found Ariana’s body but didn’t know if Tyler was dead or just missing. Payne indicated in his statements that he knew both children had died in his care and he tried to bargain with police to tell them the location of Tyler’s body.

Police said they suspect the boy’s body was thrown in the trash and dumped in the Los Reales Landfill, but the body was never found and he is presumed dead.

If Payne is convicted, prosecutors will ask the jury to decide whether certain aggravating factors exist to allow them to pursue the death penalty. One factor that would qualify Payne for the death penalty is the fact that the victims were young.

If jurors determine Payne is eligible for death, defense attorneys will present mitigating evidence that they hope will persuade jurors to choose a life sentence instead.

Prosecutors complained last week that they had yet to see a report from the defense’s mitigation expert so they could prepare for rebuttal.

Assistant Public Defender John O’Brien told Fields his mitigation expert wasn’t preparing a report and wouldn’t be available to talk to prosecutors until late this week, which clearly displeased Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer.

Usually, mitigation experts are called in early on in a death penalty case. They talk to family, friends, teachers, neighbors and others who know the defendant and collect vital records that trace the defendant’s life.

Mitigation also can include psychological reports.

Defense attorneys are required to disclose mitigation findings to prosecutors, just as prosecutors are required to disclose possible damning information to the defense.

Over the past year, prosecutors and defense attorneys have constantly bickered over whether they were getting the disclosure required.

Payne’s trial was expected to begin late last month, but O’Brien asked for at least a monthlong delay to complete mitigation. Fields allowed for a two-week delay, but refused to extend the trial date farther.

Jury selection begins Tuesday in Payne double-homicide trial

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