Jury: Death for Tucson father who starved children

By Kim Smith
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.31.2009

Christopher Payne talks with Assistant Pima County PublicDefender Rebecca McLean, right, during closing arguments Monday in the mitigation or punishment phase of his murder trial, Payne was convicted earlier this month of murdering his children Ariana 3, and Tyler, 4, in the summer of 2006. A jury Tuesday said he deserved the death penalty.
OAS_AD(‘300x250_1’) Tucson man convicted of starving two of his children to death in a bedroom closet was sentenced to death today by a Pima County jury.
The jury took five hours over two days to decide Christopher Payne’s actions were so egregious they outweighed any of the 17 mitigating factors cited by his defense attorneys.
According to prosecutors, Payne locked up and began starving Ariana, 3, and Tyler, 4, following the loss of his job in April 2006.
Once they died, Payne stored the children’s remains in garbage bags for months before placing them in a 25-gallon plastic tub and taking them to a storage unit on East Prince Road.
An autopsy revealed Ariana had suffered 12 broken ribs and a broken shoulder bone in the weeks or months before she died.
Jurors convicted Payne of two counts of first-degree murder March 17 and decided last week that the age of the children, the way they died and the fact there was more than one victim warranted a closer look at the death penalty.
During closing arguments Monday, Assistant Pima County Public Defender John O’Brien pleaded with the jury to spare Payne’s life, saying his life still has value, his family loves him and he had a dysfunctional childhood that began when his late mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 8-weeks-old.
“Christopher Payne is a flawed human being. Christopher Payne was not able to overcome the risk factors in his life. Was that a conscious choice? Did he as a young man, as a young boy…..choose to become a killer?” O’Brien asked.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Susan Eazer told jurors discounted many of the “mitigating” factors brought up by the defense, including Payne’s addiction to heroin.
Payne managed to drive while high, call his father for money while high, sell heroin while high and properly care for his youngest son, Chris Jr., while high, Eazer said.
Payne did choose to become a murderer, Eazer said.
“Every day that he locked those battered and broken babies in the closet he chose to become a killer. Every day he didn’t give those children food and water and nutrients, he chose to become a killer,” Eazer said.
The jury’s decision brings to an end a saga that came to the community’s attention on Feb. 18, 2007, when a storage facility manager decided to clean out a unit that hadn’t been paid for for months.
Inside the unit, the manager found a foul smelling 25-gallon plastic tub that she dumped into a trash bin. She called police and they found Ariana’s remains stuffed inside. Police believe Tyler’s remains fell out of the tub and ended up in a landfill.
Payne was tied to the storage unit two weeks later.
Payne insisted the children starved themselves to death once they realized they weren’t going to be allowed to live with their mother.
At one point, Payne told detectives, “They were freaking me out because of how skinny they were getting, and I didn’t want anybody to know that because then they were going to take them away from me for good.”
Payne said he bought, stole or made food he thought would appeal to the children, like Cream of Wheat and pizza, to no avail.
Eventually, Payne said the children became incontinent and looked like “Ethiopians.”
Payne told detectives he performed CPR on Ariana for more than a day and Tyler died about a week later.
The children’s mother, Jamie Hallam, testified she and Payne split up about three weeks after Ariana was born in October 2002. She and the children didn’t hear anything from Payne until December 2005 when he asked if he could see them.
After the first visits went well, Hallam dropped Ariana and Tyler off with Payne on Jan. 20, 2006, for what was supposed to be a weekend visit.
Payne kept extending the visit, however, and when she asked for CPS help in getting the children back, she was rebuffed despite the fact she had sole legal custody of them.
Former CPS caseworker Cindy Graupmann testified she suspected Hallam of child neglect and using methamphetamine — suspicions that were never proven.
Graupmann also admitted she encouraged Payne to seek custody of the children although she’d never met Payne, had not done a criminal-background check on him and or asked him to submit to drug testing.
All those things would have been done if Hallam’s parental rights had been formally severed.
Hallam settled her lawsuit against CPS for $1 million last year. Her case against the Tucson Police Department is still pending.