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Payne’s ex-girlfriend: She feared for two children’s safety

Citizen Staff Writer



The woman Christopher Mathew Payne proclaimed was “the love of my life” testified Tuesday that she feared for the safety of his two older children, both of whom starved to death, and her own son with him.

“Why didn’t you try and get those kids help?” Deputy Pima County Attorney Susan Eazer asked.

“I was scared,” Reina Irene Gonzales said.

“What were you scared of?”

“Losing my son,” said Gonzales, 24, who has a 4-year-old son with Payne, 30, of Tucson.

Gonzales said during the time that the children were being starved to death, she and Payne were taking just enough heroin every other hour to keep themselves from withdrawal. Most of their money went to buy heroin, but they did manage to feed and clothe their child, she said.

Payne is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and concealing the bodies of Ariana, 3, and Tyler Payne, 4. If he is convicted, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Gonzales had been similarly charged, but accepted a plea deal to second-degree murder and a 22-year sentence in exchange for testifying against Payne.

Gonzales testified that both times after they found his two older children dead, they got high. The children died a week apart.

Ariana and Tyler Payne came to live with Gonzales and Payne in early 2006, she testified. Around June, the children were being kept around the clock in a bedroom closet.

Gonzales said a small dresser was put in front of the closet to keep them in and Payne would feed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches about once a day.

About a month later, Payne stopped feeding them, she said.

Gonzales said Payne would look in on the children about once a day. The children never left the closet, she said.

One night when she and Payne were getting ready for bed, she said, Payne checked in on the children to find that Ariana had died.

“He put her on the bed,” Gonzales said. “(He was) freaking out.”

Though both Payne and Gonzales knew Tyler was destined for the same fate as his sister, nothing was done to help him and he died a week after Ariana, Gonzales said.

When Gonzales and Payne were arrested on March 1, 2007, Payne told police the children starved themselves to protest not being allowed to return to their mother, Jamie Hallam, who had legal custody.

Payne said he force-fed the children, but they starved to death anyway.

For two days, jurors watched a five-hour video of interviews with Payne at the police station.

Gonzales rebutted almost the entirety of his statements on the video.

“Did you ever see Chris force feed the children?” prosecutor Eazer asked.

“No,” Gonzales said.

“Did you ever see the children refuse food they were offered?”


“Did the kids like to eat?”


Gonzales said she didn’t like the children living with them after a time because “Chris was abusing them.”

Gonzales said she asked Payne about giving the children back to Hallam, but he refused.

Gonzales said she knew Payne had been paying child support to Hallam before the children came to live with them and that it was deducted from his paycheck.

“He didn’t like the fact he was paying Jamie,” Gonzales said. Gonzales said as time passed, he became more and more abusive to Ariana and Tyler.

Assistant Public Defender John O’Brien cross-examined Gonzales throughout the afternoon about the details of her plea agreement and cited what he called numerous lies she told when she first talked to police and denied knowing the children had died. In response to a question by O’Brien, Gonzales admitted that she lied to police after she was arrested. O’Brien’s cross-examination of Gonzales continues Wednesday.

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