Jason Payne wins appeal, gets new trial
A Wood County man in prison on a capital murder conviction will get a new trial thanks to a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision, according to court documents.
Dick Blanchard, executive director for Advocates for Wrongfully Convicted, also confirmed the information.
The court voted 8-1 to reverse the 12th District Court of Appeals and remanded Jason Payne's case back to Wood County for a new trial.
Payne was convicted in the Dec. 11, 2007, shooting deaths of two family members.
He was convicted in 2010, and the 12th District Court of Appeals upheld it.
However, Payne's family and some crime experts contended that he was innocent of the killings of his wife, Nicole, and her son, Austin Taylor Wages. Some contended that the killings were a murder-suicide, carried out by the 16-year-old Austin.
According to the court's opinion found online, the 12th Court of Appeals held that Payne's capital murder conviction was supported by legally sufficient evidence and that several erroneously admitted victim statements were harmless.
But a judge from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated in the opinion that, "While we agree the evidence was legally sufficient to support Payne's conviction, we remand this case for a new trial because the court of appeals erred in concluding that the admission of the statements was harmless."
Payne was initially held in the Wood County Jail on $100,000 bond for each of two counts of murder of his wife and her son in their home just north of Quitman.
At the time, Payne told authorities he came home and found they had been shot to death inside the house and that he then called 911.
A nine-month investigation was conducted that led to the issuance of an arrest warrant for Payne, according to Wood County Sheriff Dewayne Daugherty.
About two years after the shootings, Payne was convicted of capital murder.
He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for the deaths of Nicole Payne, 35, and her son, Austin.
But Smith County Sheriff Criminologist Noel Martin told the
Tyler Morning Telegraph during an interview in July 2011 that there was never any motive for a double homicide and that the evidence he had seen did not point toward anything but a murder-suicide.
Martin was at the scene the day of the shootings and later contracted to complete an in-depth forensic over-view.
Wood County sheriff investigators and District Attorney Jim Wheeler charged Payne with capital murder and a Wood County jury returned a guilty verdict.
The Wood County investigators found Nicole dead in the couple's bed, shot with a high-powered rifle once in the head as she was sleeping.
They found Austin on his bed, fully clothed except for shoes and lying uncovered across the bed with a .30-30 rifle on his legs.
A shell casing, which was forensically determined to have been fired from the rifle resting against Austin, was found on the floor of his room near his body. Another was located in the rifle, according to the online opinion from the court of criminal appeals.
His older brother, Danny Ashworth, said in an interview that Austin knew how to shoot all types of guns, including a .30-30 rifle believed to have been used in the 2007 shootings.
Payne's mother, Faye Payne, said her daughter-in-law and son had talked to her about strange behavior they had noticed in Austin.
Bill Thickstun, Payne's brother-in-law, said he thought Austin had some real problems.
"I don't know why it struck me, but the last time we went and visited Jason and Nicole, I told Melissa (his wife and Jason's sister) that I felt like Taylor could easily walk into his school and pull off a Columbine-type shooting," he said.
Lead sheriff's detective Miles Tucker sought expertise of Tom Bevel, a former Oklahoma City police captain who oversaw homicides, missing persons, robbery and unsolved cases before opening his own forensic consulting group.
Bevel stated in an eight-page report that be believed due to the stippling (wounds caused by the unburned gun power and other debris striking the skin leaving a tattooing effect) that the 20-inch barrel of the 30-30 was more than eight inches away from Taylor's face when he was shot.
"Taylor could not have operated the trigger and safety at the same time and obtain the same wound trajectory as described in the autopsy report without stretching his hand and fingers out to the max(imum) to reach the trigger," Bevel said.
Bevel also stated he believed Taylor, who was cold to the touch, was shot first, before Nicole.
Bevel's report stated he believed Jason was the person responsible for both shootings and based this opinion on his findings and the fact Jason had a "flat affect" in his 911 call, lack of tears and inconsistencies in his statement and the evidence.