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Guest heard starving child cry, ‘Daddy’?

Citizen Staff Writer



A houseguest who was unaware two children were being kept in a closet and starved to death testified in the capital murder trial of Christopher Mathew Payne that she once heard a boy utter, “Daddy!”

Convicted drug dealer Debra M. Reyes, 42, said she was taking a shower in Payne’s apartment, unaware that on the other side of the wall, Ariana and Tyler Payne were held captive in the bedroom closet.

“I heard a cry, ‘Daddy!,’ and that was it,” Reyes testified Thursday. Payne is on trial in the deaths of his children, Ariana, 3, and Tyler, 4.

Reyes said she “assumed” it was Payne’s 2-year-old son with Reina Irene Gonzales but that “it didn’t really sound” like the younger boy.

Reyes testified that she came to live with Payne and Gonzales in late June 2006. At that point, Payne began working full time for her in drug sales, according to testimony.

Up until a few days before Reyes and three other men moved into the one-bedroom apartment, Reyes said Gonzales called Payne constantly to complain about caring for his older children.

Gonzales testified this week that Payne’s solution to end her calls was to lock the two older children in the closet around the clock.

Reyes testified that she had previously seen the older children at the apartment and when she asked Payne where they were, was told they were with their mother.

Also on Thursday, jurors listened to a recording of a jail visit between Payne and his stepsister, Deborah Barbone, days after his March 1, 2007, arrest.

Payne sobbed over the absence of Gonzales, accused her of betraying him and threatened to kill himself or perhaps exact revenge on Gonzales and others.

By this time, detectives had told Payne that Ariana’s badly decomposed body had been found in a plastic tub in the trash bin of a storage unit on Feb. 18, 2007, but Tyler’s body hadn’t been found.

Payne told Barbone, as he told detectives, that the children starved themselves to death because they couldn’t be with their mother and he’d put both bodies in the plastic tub.

“Debbie, you know what’s going to happen to me?” Payne said. “They’re gonna put me away forever. I can’t deal with that.

“I’ve got to go to a better place where I don’t have to worry about nothing,” Payne said. “If something happens, it’s in God’s hands now.”

Payne suspected then that Gonzales had betrayed him, which is why she didn’t visit. Gonzales wasn’t arrested until March 8.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I’m stuck in a cage like a (expletive) animal,” Payne said.

Detectives had told Payne that Ariana’s body was discovered after the rent for the storage unit went unpaid, which Payne blamed on Gonzales.

Payne’s voice was strong and clear when speaking of getting revenge on unnamed people.

“My beef with these people goes way back and I think it’s gonna happen now!” he exclaimed.

Then Payne broke into whimpers, missing Gonzales.

“I’m so scared,” he said.

“You know why?. . . she’s probably gone,” Payne said clearly. “If that’s the case, then they’re gonna have to come out in the laundry. All things are gonna have to start coming out in the laundry.

“I’m not going to take this out on my own if she’s not going to support me,” he said. “This is not my fault.”

Defense attorneys say Gonzales was in charge of child care and is most responsible for the deaths of Ariana and Tyler. Gonzales pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for her testimony against Payne. She had been charged with first-degree murder and was facing the death penalty if convicted.

Reyes is expected back on the stand Friday afternoon after morning testimony from other witnesses.

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