The prosecution put on a convincing circumstantial case, based on character assignation in which the defense choose not to refute much of it. The problem with the prosecution's circumstantial case is it wasn't true. Circumstantial evidence is a part of a case where prosecutors get to take liberties, weave unproven and misplaced theories into a story filled with innuendos and built on inferences with no evidence to back them up.
Who is Sarah Scott Hawthorne: The most damaging and harmful testimony in Jason's trial was that of Sarah Hawthorne, sister-in-law of Nichole Payne who testified there were major problems in Jason and Nichole’s marriage. Hawthorne testified Nichole told her she was afraid of Jason, that she wanted a divorce, and that Jason had threatened to kill her and burn the house down with her in it. The trial judge should not have allowed this hearsay testimony because it couldn't be validated. The only person that could validate Hawthorne's testimony was Nichole and she was deceased. Evidence, NOT heard at trial from an iron clad witness would have shown Hawthorne despised Jason and that she did not have the type of relationship she portrayed with Nichole at trial. Furthermore, Nichole would have never confided those statements to Hawthorne because their relationship was NOT close and the statements made by Hawthorne were simply NOT true. During our investigation of this case, and Ms. Hawthorne we learned that Nichole was a very strong and independent woman, more strong willed than Jason. Nichole would have NEVER tolerated Jason speaking to her and threatening her the way Hawthorne testified. If Nichole was unhappy in her marriage, which she was not she would have left it and filed for a divorce.
The defense strenuously objected to Hawthorne's hearsay testimony but the trial judge allowed it in. The defense made the choice not to refute Hawthorne's testimony at trial, big mistake but instead bring it up on appeal which they did; the appeals court agreed that Hawthorne's testimony was hearsay evidence but ruled it harmless which it most certainly was NOT and should not have been allowed in at trial. BUT in s surprising decision by the Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals, at least by that court they overruled the appeals court stating Hawthorne's testimony was hearsay and was harmful granting Jason a 2nd trial.
There were plenty of witnesses that could have refuted and impeached Hawthorne's testimony and questioned her credibility, but Jason's attorney did not call any of them. These witnesses would have testified that Nichole and Jason had a happy marriage, and that Jason and Nichole were not close, intimate friends with Hawthorne. Nichole's nickname for Hawthorne, which was anything but flattering would have also been brought up.
There were two dozen letters from friends, pastors and a city mayor, plus a psychologist report written during a hearing for custody of Jason's two young children that testified to Jason's high moral character and his being an excellent father and husband, but none of this was brought up at trial by the defense. There was more than ample evidence that could have impeached Hawthorne's testimony but sadly none of it was ever presented at trial.There are many innocent people in prison based solely on circumstantial evidence.
Was this a Planned Burial Site or Something Else: The prosecution inferred that two holes found at the end of Jason & Nichole's twelve acre property, actually in their next door neighbor’s lot appeared to be potential grave sites. The prosecution went on to state that Jason had been planning this crime for months and these two holes were dug for the purpose of burying the bodies of Nichole and Taylor after they had been killed by Jason. How does the prosecution address these two questions: 1) How did Jason intend to get the bodies into his truck without massive amounts of blood evidence when moving them from the house to his truck and with his daughter being a witness to the event? 2) Why after finding the bodies of Nichole and Taylor in the house does Jason immediately call 911 and report the shooting of the two bodies and made no attempt to move and bury them at the "gravesite" as he had supposedly planned?" This was pure speculation on the prosecutor’s part fueled by inferences which didn't add up. Defense lawyer Parks asked Faye Payne, Jason’s mother about these holes and she stated that her oldest son Billy and Taylor were digging for arrowheads and coins. There were other witnesses that could have collaborated Faye Payne's testimony but were not called to testify. The Insurance Policy and a Bogus Motive: When Nichole and Jason purchased auto and home insurance, the staff at the insurance agent's office asked them if they would also like to purchase life insurance. They were somewhat interested but needed to think about it. In June 2007, a month or so after the solicitation by the State Farm agent Nichole and Jason each applied for individual $250,000 life insurance policies with $10K riders for the three children. However, after taking their medical exams the results came back showing Nichole suffered from depression and Jason was a smoker. This raised the premiums approximately fifteen percent higher than previously quoted for Nichole and significantly higher for Jason. They both made the decision to lower the premium from $250K to $100K and initially just take out a $100K policy on Nichole; at a later date it was planned that a $100K policy would be taken out on Jason; all of this was documented but not presented at trial by the prosecution. The prosecution claimed Jason had planned these murders in advance to be able to collect the $100K from Nichole's policy and the $10K on Taylor’s policy, and was motive for the two killings. But how does the prosecution address this question? If Jason had planned these killings in advance why didn’t he keep Nichole’s policy at $250K? He certainly could have made the higher monthly payments for a couple of months knowing after he killed Nichole he would have collected $250K instead of $100K. OR why wouldn't Jason have purchased a similar or lesser policy on himself to take away any suspicion from him? This was just a prosecutor grasping at straws to try and find a motive that would tie Jason to his theory that Jason had committed the double homicide of Nichole and Taylor. It is important to remember that Jason did NOT seek out life insurance for himself and Nichole; it was obtained in response to a solicitation by the State Farm agent seven or eight months before Nichole's murder. Upon hearing about the deaths, the insurance agent submitted the claim on his own initiative. There was no evidence that Jason ever made a claim on Nichole's policy or that Jason asked the agent to submit the claim on his behalf, and remember he had nine months from the time of Nichole's murder until the time of his arrest to file the claim. Jason's refusal to give the insurance company a recorded statement alone does not prove that he murdered Nichole for the insurance proceeds. The MIssing Checkbook: The prosecution stated Jason and Nichole had no money in the bank. D.A. Wheeler used an old bank account showing a negative balance of $267.00, when in fact there was a newer account showing a balance of over $6,000.00 which was never shown at trial by either the prosecution or the defense. The prosecution stated Jason and Nichole were in deep financial debt; when in fact, as a result of an earlier injury accident lawsuit, in which Jason resceived approximately $300,000 they had no debt. They owned their house with NO mortgage payments, all three cars were paid for having NO car payments, and there were other assets, plus the $6,000.00 in their checking account. How many young married couple in their late thirty's would like to be in that financial position? Nichole’s business was just getting started with the possibility of future earnings. Jason and Nichole could get jobs whether full time or part time, and continue to build Nichole's business. In addition the prosecution inferred that as a result of this financial hardship Nichole had to start taking depression medication, when in fact Nichole had been on and off depression medication for years. Another prosecution theory when carefully looked at doesn't add up as a motive for Jason killing Nichole and Taylor.
Dimitri Nobles: A former boyfriend of Nichole’s was said by Sarah Hawthorne to be having an affair with Nichole; this affair was not verified by Nobles during his testimony nor by anyone else. He testified he thought Nichole might be having problems in her marriage but was there an ulterior motive behind his testimony? Defense witnesses, not called could have rebutted Nobles testimony and stated Jason and Nichole's marriage was fine.
Sleeping Arrangements Different but Real: Much was made by the prosecution about the sleeping arrangements in the Payne household because pallets and mattresses were being used to sleep on. This was used by the prosecution to infer Jason and Nichole were having marital problems and suggesting that Jason was not even living there. There were two people, Faye Payne, mother of Jason who lived with Nichole and Jason in their Quitman home and adopted son Danny Ashworth, who lived with Nichole and Jason in their Nacogdoches home for eight years, that knew Nichole and Jason had been sleeping on pallets/mattresses on the floor for years; neither one was questioned about this during their testimony by the defense. We obtained a video, not shown at trial of Nichole and Jason's sitting on their bed in Nacogdoches, TX, mattress on a pallet on the floor. So although this sleeping arrangement may not be normal for most it was normal for Nichole and Jason, and that's how they had slept for years. Another indication of the prosecutor grasping for straws to poke holes in the happy marriage of Nichole and Jason. How Hard Did the Police Look for Clothes and Toiletries: Lt. Det. Tucker testified that in his search of the crime scene he didn’t find any clothes or toiletries of Jason’s at the house. This testimony was used by the prosecution to infer Jason wasn't living there because of problems with the marriage. BUT there were clothes and toiletries of Jason's in the house. How hard did the police look in their search? If Jason wasn't living there why was he taking his children to school every day instead of Nichole? And if Jason wasn't living there where was he living, the police never brought that up? Just something else the police lied about to discredit Nichole and Jason's marriage. A Strong Motive Never Revealed: Throughout the circumstantial case the prosecution was building motive why Jason committed the crime while portraying Taylor as a model boy who had absolutely no motive to kill his mother and commit suicide. BUT did Taylor have a motive?
- Sarah Hawthorne: She testified that Taylor was close to his mother, loved her very much, would never do anything to harm her, and that Taylor was a peaceful and law abiding boy. BUT Sarah and the Hawthrone family KNEW that Taylor was a troublesome young man.
- School Friends: Various friends testified that Taylor, although shy at school was well liked and was a peaceful and law abiding boy.
- School Guidance Counselor: She testified that Taylor maintained good grades, was a good student, and a peaceful and law abiding boy.
- Defense Witnesses: Faye Payne was never asked any questions about Taylor’s behavior during her testimony even though she could have shed light on it. Danny Ashworth was only asked one question about Taylor during his testimony and that was the type of music Taylor listened to. Danny lived with the family for eight years and could have shed light on Taylor’s troublesome behavior. Danny told us he believes his brother Taylor was the person that committed this crime and not Jason. Melisa and Bill Thickstun could have shed light on Taylor’s strange behavior but were never called to testify by the defense.
- Un-revealed motive: During our investigation we discovered Taylor had emotional and behavioral problems that showed he had motive to kill his mother and commit suicide, and that Nichole's mother, Sherry Hawthorne, knew about them because Nichole had told her. These issues were never brought up at trial by the defense.
Why the Jury Voted to Convict: The circumstantial case by the prosecution could have easily been dispelled if the defense had challenged the prosecution's circumstantial evidence, instead of relying solely on the forensic evidence. In circumstantial cases there is often little or no evidence to back up inferences made by prosecutors. Prosecutors are allowed liberty to twist circumstances to make them fit their presumption of guilt. That is what happened in this case because once the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution is closely looked at it turns out to be false. Based on the prosecution's unchallenged circumstantial case is it any wonder why the jury voted to convict Jason Payne of double homicide and send him to prison for the rest of his natural life.