Mother of two young victims takes stand in ex-husband’s murder trial

hallamCOMMENTARY

As a surgically-repaired Tiger Woods stepped deeper into the familiar glare of the media’s spotlight during a “match play” golf tournament  near Tucson on Thursday, a 32-year-old woman who’s long-shunned reporters  appeared on a witness stand in a Pima County courtroom.

Jamie Hallam’s round with the legal system would have nothing to do with sudden death, though.

For here, the light of truth exposes a case wherein at east one child endured brutalities lasting weeks.  Maybe even months.

In that courtroom yesterday, Hallam answered questions about the brief lives of a beautiful 4-year-old girl.  And a handsome 5-year-old boy.

Her kids.

Hallam has rarely spoken publicly about the deaths of Ariana Payne and Tyler Payne.  The children she’d allowed to visit her ex-husband, only to never see them again.

Never.

Below, you can choose to watch Thursday’s TV news reports featuring Hallam on the stand.  But first, please permit me to share a bit of background.  Not a ton of facts, to be sure.  Rather, what follows will hopefully convey a bit of what it was like two years ago, when this disturbing story first made headlines.

It was two years ago this month that the unthinkable chain-of-events began to unfold.

And it started with the discovery of what little was left of a tiny body found inside a tub pulled from a dumpster.  It’s believed that the tub—and its heart-wrenching secrets—had spent months sealed  within the darkness of a storage locker located only a few feet away from the dumpster.

Ariana PayneIn time, we learned that the human remains had once helped form a vibrant, smiling…yes, very-much alive… little girl named Ariana Payne. Snapshots taken during her short life could…as is often said…”melt your heart.”

And this story only grew darker.

Ariana had a brother.

Where was Tyler Payne?

His mother hadn’t seen either child for…months.

How could that happen?

I was reporter for a Tucson TV station assigned to this story.  And I found myself  returning to that storage locker area more than a few times.  Hoping to learn who had rented it.  Wondering who had brought Ariana to it.

Had Tyler been there, too?

Then, the story spread to a new location.  It’s relevance seemed obvious, yet you hoped it wouldn’t be true.

A helicopter’s camera zoomed-in on a team of investigators all clad in white.  The people on the ground also wore masks as they sifted through tons of garbage at the local landfill.Tyler Payne

They were searching for Tyler.  They didn’t find him.  Still haven’t.  An outcome that’s often gnawed at me ever since.

For one year earlier, back in 2006, I’d covered a story about a Tucson woman whose husband had accidentally thrown-out her treasured rings (as I recall, she’d taken the rings off her fingers just prior to washing dishes and had tucked them away inside a folded napkin she’d placed on a nearby counter).

The ringless woman and her husband soon managed to convince the folks at a landfill to let them search for a missing wedding band, et al. Some employees even helped.

You know what? They found those rings.  Really.  It was a wonderful, positive story.

If Tyler is in a landfill, it really is a shame…  Well, “shame” hardly seems to be the proper word.  “Travesty” seems closer to the point I’m trying to make here.

In time, police arrested Christopher Payne.

If we are to use DNA as a standard of measure, Payne is to be called the “father” of Ariana and Tyler.  Yet, if what police and prosecutors say about Payne is true, it would seem nothing could further from the truth than “father”.

payne_gonzales_21Later, Ariana’s bones revealed that she’d suffered numerous injuries prior to her death.

12-broken ribs.

A broken shoulder blade.

Payne’s girlfriend, also arrested, ultimately shared how the children had spent considerable time locked-up in a closet with little food and water.

Perfection is rarely found within humanity.  And in this case, flaws would be exposed on all sides.

State lawmakers wanted to know how such a tragedy could happen.  Weren’t mechanisms in place to protect Ariana and Tyler?  (And another Tucson child who’d died in a separate case).

Last year, Arizona’s Child Protective Services settled a lawsuit when the state agreed to pay Hallam $1 million.

Without a doubt, many followers of this case will be quick to point out that no telling of this story would be complete without mentioning that Hallam’s testimony has revealed what many had long-suspected.  She’s done meth.  She says she’s been clean for some time now.

To learn more about Hallam’s testimony, I recommend reading today’s story in the Arizona Daily Star.

You can also watch Thursday’s news coverage from KVOA-TV and KGUN-TV (below).

I just know that whenever this story comes up, I see the faces of two small children.  Kids who had no way to protect themselves from neglect or monster.

I remember the emotional toll this story took on an employee at the storage business where Ariana’s remains were found.

And before my mind moves on, I always wonder, “Where’s Tyler?”

Recommended reading on this case: The Murder Trial of Christopher Payne (Crime, Interrupted /blog)

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8 Responses to Mother of two young victims takes stand in ex-husband’s murder trial

  1. avatar
    Sam Redman February 27, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Kudos to you Mark. That piece is well written and riveting. You really got me interested in a case I had not known about. You truly demonstrate the skills of a professional.

    — Sam

  2. avatar
    Beyond90Seconds February 27, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    Thank you, Sam.

  3. avatar
    Jan February 27, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    Mark you really are a gifted writer. I too found myself drawn into what truly is a compelling story by your amazing ability as a writer. I of course live far from Arizona and had not heard about any of this. What a horrible ending for two precious children. I can certainly understand why you became emotionally involved in this one. So very sad. I may have to follow this trial a bit now!

    Jan

  4. avatar
    Tami February 27, 2009 at 2:49 pm #

    Mark is absolutely a gifted writer.

    This case has haunted me for the last two years. There have been times when I thought, “I can’t think about this case anymore.” Then I think about all the wonderful people I have been privledged to meet and get to know. People like Mark. His compassion for the people directly involved in this case, and those indirectly involved, like myself (a blogger), is commendable. I am proud to call him my friend and feel blessed to have him as part of my life.

    Thanks, Mark!

  5. avatar
    Amanda March 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    I just wanted to thank Mark Horner for all support you shown for my in-laws. R.I.P. Ariana & Tyler Payne, we all miss you! Once again Thank you!

  6. avatar
    Glenn March 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    Mark, words cannot convey what I feel in my heart every time I see images of those precious little angels. Grief, pain…not even close. Nor can words adequately express what I felt each time I went to the courtroom and saw Christopher Payne sitting just a few feet away, well dressed…and well-fed. I don’t think that I have to elaborate.

  7. avatar
    Beyond90Seconds March 13, 2009 at 5:58 am #

    Hi Glenn,

    I don’t think you need to elaborate, either. The details of this case are so disturbing. Each court day only seems to reveal more details regarding the long-suffering and unimaginable deaths of two small children. All of that information piling-up against the instinctive desire to rescue them. Only it’s far too late.
    There are no words.

  8. avatar
    Alice March 18, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    What ever happened to the Trujillo child? Same age and all. Found in a little duplex, possibly vacant according to a neighbor (she told news she was unaware anyone there, so who knows) that is about one block away – just north of – the Prince locker of the Payne children.
    Nothing like keeping it in the neighborhood, eh? Strange town this is.

Thank you for visiting.

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