Citizen Staff Writer
Reina Irene Gonzales concluded two days of testimony in Christopher Mathew Payne’s capital murder trial, saying she could have helped his children before they died but didn’t.
Defense attorneys said Gonzales, 24, is most responsible for Ariana and Tyler Payne’s deaths from starvation in 2006 while being forced to live in a bedroom closet for months.
“Did you have the ability to feed them?” Assistant Public Defender John O’Brien asked Wednesday.
“Yes,” Gonzales said.
“Did you ever take them out of the closet?”
“No,” she said.
Payne, 30, was arrested after Ariana’s remains were found in a North Side storage locker Feb. 18, 2007. Tyler’s remains have never been found.
Payne is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and concealing the children’s bodies. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Gonzales was similarly charged, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 22-year sentence in exchange for testifying against Payne.
Prosecutors say Gonzales feared Payne too much to help the children.
“At whose direction were the children kept in the closet?” Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer asked Wednesday.
“Chris,” Gonzales said.
“Why didn’t you take care of those kids, Reina?” Eazer asked.
“I don’t know,” Gonzales replied.
Ronald Genung, who lived next door to the apartment where Ariana, 3, and Tyler, 4, died, testified that he smelled a foul odor coming from his neighbor’s porch.
According to previous testimony, Ariana’s body was once kept in the outside storage closet until Payne placed the body back in a bedroom closet with Tyler’s body.
Ana Ontiveros, who works at the apartment complex where Ariana and Tyler died, said Payne and Gonzales left the closet filled top to bottom with trash bags with dirty diapers and other refuse.
The stench was so offensive that when the closet was first opened, the door was quickly shut, Ontiveros said.
A detective testified that there was evidence of blood and body fluids in the closet.
Testimony will resume Thursday morning with an alleged drug dealer who stayed at the Payne apartment while the children were kept in the closet.