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Woman gets 22 years in kids’ starvation

Citizen Staff Writer



Reina Irene Gonzales, 25, was sentenced in Pima County Superior Court on Monday to two concurrent 22-year prison terms for her role in the murders of Tyler and Ariana Payne.

Gonzales initially faced first-degree murder charges and 35 years to life in prison for each death. In a plea deal, the prosecutor agreed to reduce the charges to second-degree murder and accept a sentence of 22 years for each death, to be served concurrently.

The plea was accepted by the court in August 2008. Sentencing was delayed until after her testimony in the capital murder trial of her former boyfriend Christopher Payne.

Judge Paul Tang found aggravating factors in the case – including the heinous and depraved manner in which the murders were committed, that the victims were young children and that two children were killed. That is why he agreed to the aggravated sentence of 22 years.

Defense attorneys argued that Gonzales has an unspecified “mental defect,” was under the control of an abusive boyfriend (Payne) and was a daily user of heroin and crack cocaine, which impaired her thinking. They said she deserved mercy.

Gonzales and Payne were arrested after the decomposing body of his 3-year-old daughter, Ariana, was found in a North Side storage locker Feb. 18, 2007. The body of his 4-year-old son, Tyler, has never been found.

Payne admitted the children died while locked in a dark closet, starving. At the time, he was more than $15,000 behind on child support payments to ex-wife Jamie Hallam for the two children.

Payne was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in March and sentenced to death.

Tang said Monday it was inconceivable “how a mother could treat these children, half siblings of your own son, in this manner. You suffer from a mental deficit and you were using mind-numbing drugs.

“But during the same period of time, you provided normal care to (her son with Christopher Payne). These actions are deplorable unconscionable and unforgivable.”

Gonzales’ lawyer, Brick Storts III, read a letter from his client to the judge saying she was sorry for the killings and “has turned her life over to God.” She was present, but he said she didn’t feel able to speak to the judge herself.

“Her inaction was reprehensible. We have to think about the terror of what they (the children) were going through,” Storts said. “She was outside the door and she didn’t help them.”

Still, he said, she has a conscience and “an understanding of the wrongfulness of her inaction.”

The defense tried to have Gonzales declared mentally retarded so she would not face the death penalty, which prosecutors initially sought.

Two experts found that she was not mentally retarded but has a “borderline IQ” of 69 to 73.

She dropped out of high school, but was able to work at a fast-food restaurant and a University of Arizona sorority house. She applied for and received food stamps and welfare payments. Those actions show she was not mentally retarded, the prosecutor said.

Dad’s girlfriend gets 22 years in Payne kids’ deaths

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