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Key prosecution witness set to testify in Payne trial

Citizen Staff Writer



Reina Irene Gonzales, the key witness against Christopher Mathew Payne, is set to testify Tuesday about how he treated her and his children.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard S. Fields made a series of rulings Monday that limits how much defense attorneys can ask Gonzales, 24, about her history of drug abuse and prosecutors can ask about alleged domestic violence incidents.

Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer asked Fields to allow her to ask about Payne allegedly yelling at Gonzales when she didn’t pay the rent; a shoving incident when she was pregnant with their child, Chris Jr.; and a confrontation over an unsubstantiated report he molested his daughter.

“Reina will say she was intimidated by him because of those things,” Eazer said, “and that’s why she didn’t take any steps she should have while all this was going on in the house.”

Prosecutors say Payne, 30, starved to death his older children, Ariana, 3, and Tyler, 4, over an extended period in 2006 that included locking them in a closet with little food or water.

Defense attorneys say Gonzales was the one who abused the children and is mainly responsible for their deaths.

Fields ruled Gonzales may testify she was intimidated by and feared Payne and he yelled at her about the rent. But he said the shoving incident is off limits.

Defense attorneys sought to ask Gonzales about alleged drug use at an early age and her family background, which they say led to her poor parenting skills and abuse of Ariana and Tyler.

Fields ruled they can ask her about her drug use, but he won’t allow extensive questioning.

Monday afternoon, jurors finished watching a five-hour-long video of Payne being questioned by police after his March 1, 2007, arrest.

Prosecutors played the tape in its entirety, including showing Payne alone in the interview room, squirming in his seat, laying on the table, kicking the walls, screaming his love for Gonzales and swearing at and pleading with officers to feed him and allow him to use the bathroom.

Payne admitted the children died in his care, but said they starved themselves to death because he wouldn’t send them to their mother.

“You’re trying to make this a bigger case than what it really is,” Payne said. “I failed to make that phone call to get them help. I know that. That’s what I failed to do.”

At the time, officers were piecing together the story of how Ariana’s badly decomposed body came to be found in a plastic tub in a trash bin at a storage facility.

Payne was surprised to learn that only one set of bones had been found, saying he put both children in the tub.

Detectives were shocked to learn that Tyler’s body should have been with his sister’s. His remains have never been recovered.

Detective Michael Orozco testified Monday that officers didn’t search the trash bin where the tub containing the bodies was found.

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