Following are the actual facts of Jason Payne's Wrongful Conviction:
Fact: On December 11, 2007 at approximately 9:00 AM Jason Payne discovers the bodies of his wife Nichole and stepson Austin Taylor Wages shot to death in their home. At 9:09 AM he calls 911 and asks for help.
Fact: After Lead Detective Tucker was finished at the crime scene he invited Jason down to the police station for an interview. At the interview, which was video recorded Jason stated he did not know who committed the crime, that he did not commit the crime, that he did not have any problems in his marriage and that he did not have any financial problems. At the conclusion of the interview Lt. Tucker asked Jason to sign a paper, which he did giving up custody of his two young children.
Fact: Lead investigator Lt. Det. Miles Tucker, Wood County, Texas Sheriff Deputy and Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp called in Sgt. Noel Martin a Smith County, Texas Sheriff’s Deputy, and forensic criminologist to conduct a crime scene reconstruction. Martin who had always testified as an expert witness for the prosecution, and the only forensic expert to appear on the crime scene concluded the crime was a murder suicide in which Taylor Wages shot and killed his mother, and then using the same 30/30 rifle committed suicide.
Fact: For the first time in his professional career, Noel Martin testified as a defense expert witness.
Fact: Lt. Tucker not convinced of Noel Martin’s conclusion of murder suicide decided he needed a second opinion and hired out of state forensic consultant Tom Bevel to do another crime scene reconstruction. Bevel, who never visited the crime scene, and never reviewed Martin's report, used crime scene photos, police reports and Lt. Tucker’s report concurred with Tucker that the crime was a double homicide in which Jason Payne shot his stepson Taylor Wages in the early morning hours and staged the scene to look like a suicide. Then according to Tucker and Bevel, Jason returned home with his two year old daughter sometime after 8:00 AM from taking his five year old son to school and murdered his wife Nichole.
Fact: Tom Bevel used his forensic findings and circumstantial evidence provided by Lt. Tucker to reach his conclusion of double homicide. Noel Martin relied solely on the forensic evidence to reach his conclusion of murder suicide. Martin, when asked at trial if he had had access to Lt. Tucker’s circumstantial evidence if that would have changed his conclusion replied I let the forensic evidence speak for itself and the forensic evidence in this case said murder suicide.
Fact: Noel Martin had his report and conclusion peer reviewed by Texas Rangers Kenny Ray and Brent Davis, as well as Bobby Henderson of Henderson Forensics and Joe Brasco an expert crime scene investigator. Martin's report was further validated by a forensic report produced by Dr. Edward Hueske, forensic scientist who had his report peer reviewed by B. Max Courtney, forensic scientist. Tom Bevel stated that his report was reviewed by his partner Iris Dalley, but her signature was not included on his report.
Fact: On September 27, 2008 Jason Payne was arrested by Wood County Sheriff Deputies for the double homicide of his wife Nichole Payne and Taylor Wages.
Fact: Noel Martin and Dr. Ed Hueske demonstrated in front of the jury just how easy it would have been for Taylor Wages sitting on the side of his bed with the 30/30 rifle placed on the floor between his legs to have fired the rifle and commit suicide. Tom Bevel and Richard Ernest testified it would have been highly unlikely, if not impossible for Taylor Wages to fire the rifle and commit suicide but neither demonstrated this impossibility in front of the jury.
Fact: The bodies of victims Nichole Payne and Taylor Wages were removed from the crime scene without the medical examiner being called to the house to examine the bodies, and before Noel Martin arrived to perform his crime scene reconstruction. In addition, bedding from Nichole and Taylor’s beds, pieces of evidence were also removed from the house prior to Martin’s arrival at the crime scene.
Fact: Noel Martin stated it would have been next to impossible for Jason Payne to have fired the 30/30 rifle that killed Taylor Wages and achieved the trajectory of the bullet entering the left side of Taylor’s face and exiting in the right back of his head in a front to backward direction.
Fact: The presence of soot and stippling on Taylor's face indicated that the gun was fired at a relatively close range. Dr. Pinckard, medical examiner listed Taylor's manner of death as undetermined because the nature of the wound and the estimated range of fire raised the question of whether it would have been possible for Taylor to position and fire the rifle himself. Noting the intermediate range from which the wound was inflicted, Dr. Pinckard could not rule out suicide.
Fact: There was no evidence presented at trial to support Lt. Tucker’s inference that Taylor Wages was shot in the early morning hours of December 11, 2007 by Jason Payne. In later testimony Tucker stated that a shot from that 30/30 rifle would have produced a noise that could have been heard anywhere on the Payne’s twelve acre property; in the stillness of the night no one in that household stated they heard the rifle being fired.
Fact: There was no gun residue (GSR) found on Jason Payne’s hands or anywhere else on his body. There was GSR found on Taylor Wages’ on the back of his right hand.
Fact: There was no blood found on Jason Payne’s clothes or on any parts of his body.
Fact: The police inferred that clothes found in the washer/dryer of the Quitman home were clothes that Jason used to wash the blood off them after committing the crime. Test results from Cellmark Labs came back showing no traces of blood on those clothes.
Fact: Noel Martin stated he saw smudges consistent with fingerprints that were visible on the barrel of the 30-30 rifle just below the front sight in the same area where the void is located. Lt. Tucker inferred at trial that Jason Payne wiped the 30/30 rifle clean. In his brief to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) District Attorney Jim Wheeler wrote that Jason was responsible for wiping that weapon clean. Crime scene photos taken after Jason had no access to that rifle showed blood dripping in a downward direction on the barrel of the gun and smudges consistent with fingerprints.
Fact: In a photo of the 30/30 rifle as it was being packaged to be sent to the DPS crime lab there was no sightings of blood or smudges on the rifle.
Fact: Lt. Tucker sent a letter to the DPS crime lab asking that the evidence concerning the rifle be returned without any analysis. Tucker told DPS it would be quicker to obtain forensic results from a private lab, Orchid Cellmark in Dallas. The rifle was sent to Orchid Cellmark Labs and their report came back showing no examination was performed on the rifle and no DNA analysis was done on the rifle.
Fact: Six different crime scene photos show the 30/30 rifle, identified as the weapon used in the crime positioned and located differently on Taylor Wages’ body in all six photos.
Fact: The blue carpet under Taylor Wages' bed, a key piece of evidence was not sent to the DPS crime lab and/or Orchid Cellmark to be tested for the presence of blood. Tom Bevel stated he saw no blood on photos of the carpet by Taylor's feet which indicated to him that Taylor could not have shot himself sitting on the side of his bed as claimed by the defense. Noel Martin who was present at the crime scene saw faint traces of blood on that carpet and tested it with Blue Star making the blood more apparent. The carpet was not preserved as evidence by the police and when last checked by Jason’s mother Faye Payne sometime in 2012 the carpet was still in the garage which had been Taylor's bedroom..
Fact: The police found a white rag in Jason's truck stating there was a bright fresh red blood spot on it and that it was Nichole's blood, which it was. Police inferred it had been used by Jason in the commission of the crime. Crime scene photos showed the blood to be dried and brown in color. The 12th Court of Appeals in their ruling stated the blood spot was not fresh but dried and was not bright red.
Fact: The police discovered two holes on neighbor’s property, bordering on the Payne property which police inferred Jason had dug to be used as graves to bury the bodies of Nichole Payne and Taylor Wages. Upon discovering the bodies on the morning of December 11, 2007 Jason immediately called 911 asking for help and made no attempt to bury the bodies in those two holes.
Fact: The prosecution stated Jason and Nichole had financial difficulties and showed a checking account with a negative balance of $267. A newer checking account showing a balance of over $6,000 was not presented at trial by prosecution or defense.
Fact: As a result of an earlier car accident in which Jason received a personal injury settlement of approximately $300K, Nichole and Jason Payne owned their house with no mortgage payments, owned three cars with no car payments, and Nichole had a small bird business which brought income into the family.
Fact: There was a $100K life insurance policy on Nichole Payne with $10K riders on the children. The prosecution stated Jason had taken out this life insurance policy on Nichole weeks in advance and planned to kill her to collect the insurance money upon her death. A State Farm agent testified that after selling Jason and Nichole auto and home insurance that he solicited their business and talked them into buying life insurance. Jason and Nichole came to his office in June 2007 to take out two $250K insurance policies on themselves. Upon taking their insurance physicals it showed Jason was a smoker and Nichole suffered from depression. This raised the monthly premiums on the policies, 15% higher for Nichole and considerably higher for Jason; it was decided by them to just take a $100K policy on Nichole and at a later date take another $100K policy on Jason.
Fact: Sarah Hawthorne, sister-in-law of Nichole Payne testified, at the objection of the defense that her testimony was hearsay, stated that Nichole had told her she wanted a divorce, and that Jason had threatened to kill her and burn the house down; and that should Nichole die she had asked Sarah to avenge her death.
Fact: Witness testimony was presented by the prosecution that Taylor Wages was a fine young man who loved his mother, and had no reason to kill her and then commit suicide.
Fact: There was no evidence presented by the defense for a motive as to why Taylor Wages would have shot and killed his mother and then committed suicide.
Fact: Jason Payne, on the advice of his defense team did not testify at trial.
Fact: On January 19, 2010 Jason Payne was convicted of capital murder for the double homicide of his wife Nichole Payne and stepson Taylor Wages, and was sentenced to life without parole in the Texas prison system.
Fact: On April 29, 2011 the Court of Appeals (COA) denied Jason’s appeal and affirmed his conviction. The COA, in their opinion stated the trial testimony of Sarah Hawthorne was hearsay but harmless.
Fact: On February 27, 2013 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) overruled the decision by the COA and stated in their opinion that the hearsay testimony by Sara Hawthorne was harmful. The TCCA remanded Jason’s case to the trial court for a new trial.
Fact: On March 14, 2013 a rehearing motion was filed by Wood County prosecutor to TCCA asking court to overturn their February 27, 2013 ruling gramting Jason a new trial.
Fact: On March 19, 2016 Jason Payne was again convicted of the double homicide of his wife Nichole Payne and stepson Taylor Wages; he was sentenced to LWOP.