The Texas city of Quitman was shaken to its core in December 2007 by what appeared to be a grisly murder-suicide. A young mother named Nichole Payne and her adolescent son, Austin, were discovered dead in the same location. After conducting a thorough investigation, the authorities reached the conclusion that the scene had been fabricated. “Dateline: House of Horrors” on NBC News focuses on how the police were able to hone in on the actual perpetrator of the crime, as well as what happened after the police made their discovery. Then, shall we investigate this further, shall we?
How Did Nichole Payne Die?
In Columbus, Mississippi, in October of 1972, Nichole Hawthorne was brought into the world by her parents, Richard T. and Sherry Hawthorne. Doves have held her attention ever since she was a child, and she eventually made a living out of her passion for them. She was the owner and manager of a company called Wings of Love, which offered the service of releasing doves at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The woman, who was 35 years old at the time of the occurrence, was married to Jason Payne and had two children, Riley and Joseph, with him at the time of the incident.
In addition to that, Nichole was the mother of Austin, who was 15 years old and was the product of a prior relationship. On the morning of December 11, 2007, at approximately 9:09 in the AM, Jason dialled 911 to report that Nichole and Austin had been shot. Nichole was discovered by the authorities lying in bed in the downstairs bedroom with a gunshot wound to the back of her head shortly after their arrival. The next thing that happened was that Austin was discovered in the garage lying on his bed with a gun between his legs and his feet touching the floor. He had a wound to his top lip that appeared to have been caused by a gunshot.
Who is to Blame for Nichole Payne’s Death?
At first glance, it appeared as though it was a case of murder-suicide, with Austin shooting his mother and then turning the gun on himself. But as they probed deeper into the matter, the authorities began to suspect that something was amiss. In contrast to the scent of gunpowder that permeated the area where Nichole was discovered, there was no trace of the odour in the garage. In addition, Nichole was warm to the touch, whereas Austin appeared to have been dead for some time already. At the time, the circumstances surrounding Austin’s passing were classified as being unknown.
Jason stated to the authorities that he woke up on that particular day at approximately 7 a.m. in order to drive Joseph and Austin to school. After that, he was sitting in the car with Riley and Joseph, and they were all waiting for Austin to join them there. After the adolescent failed to appear, Jason claimed that he departed the house, saying that he and Riley drove back around 8:15 in the morning after taking Joseph to school. When Riley mentioned that she wanted to go to the park, Jason stated that he went inside the home to notify Nichole about it, and that it was around that time that he found Riley’s body in the garage.
After that, the authorities found out that Nichole had an insurance policy in her name for $100,000, and Jason was the beneficiary of the policy. This led to even greater suspicion. In addition, there was no evidence to suggest that Austin had entertained the idea of taking his own life or that of his mother. A more in-depth analysis of the family’s finances indicated that their cash resources were limited, which leaves the door open for the possibility that Jason was motivated financially. As a direct consequence of this, the authorities had the impression that the crime scene had been fabricated. That was backed up by the evidence presented.
Because there were no fingerprints on the gun, it is possible that it had been cleaned before being discovered by the police. In the trunk of Jason’s car, there was a washcloth covered in Nichole’s blood and the traces of a gunshot. Accordingly, the investigators thought that Jason had wiped the blood off of himself and also wiped off the revolver. An expert stated during his trial that the gun was around 10–12 inches away from Austin when he was shot, and that it was highly impossible that Austin shot himself given the length of the barrel of the rifle. A blood spatter expert also testified that the blood that was found on Austin’s hand was not there because of the fact that he was holding the barrel.
The testimony provided by Nichole’s friends and family offered a gloomy picture of the state of her relationship with Jason. An ex-boyfriend of Nichole’s claimed that in August of 2007, she expressed to him her want to leave her life because she was unhappy with it. Andrea Scott, a friend of Jason’s, testified that he would frequently beg Riley to tell Nichole that she despised her, and he would even ask the young child to hit her own mother. Jennifer Morton, another one of Nichole’s close friends, asserted that the 35-year-old woman discussed her desire to dissolve her marriage to Jason.
In yet another tragic turn of events, Riley revealed during a session of therapy that she had overheard her mother and brother being murdered by their father. As a direct consequence of this, Jason was found guilty of the killings. For the acts he committed in 2010, he was given a sentence of life in prison without the chance of release; however, in 2013, the verdict against him was reversed. On the other hand, Jason was given the same sentence in March of 2016, which will keep him incarcerated for the remainder of his natural life.
Authorities looked into Nichole Payne’s husband as a potential suspect in the couple’s deaths as the investigation went on
It wasn’t until eight months after Nichole Payne and her son’s deaths that authorities arrested Jason Payne and charged him with their murders. They stated that they wanted to gather all of the appropriate evidence, which included finding two large holes that looked like graves on the Paynes property, as reported by KLTV at the time of his arrest. Jason Payne was charged with murdering Nichole Payne and her son.
According to the records that were shown in court during Payne’s trial, the court heard that Payne spoke to his mother on the phone while he was in jail and asked her to destroy two recordings that she was storing for him in her nightstand. Payne made this request while he was in jail.
It was established beyond a reasonable doubt that Nichole Payne had been murdered; however, the primary topic of discussion during the trial centred on whether Wages had also been murdered or whether he had committed suicide. The answer to this question would indicate whether the deaths of the two individuals were a double homicide or a murder-suicide.
However, based on the evidence that was presented, the jury came to the conclusion that Payne was responsible for both murders. Furthermore, according to a ruling made by the Texas Court of Appeals, “the State’s experts’ testimony, combined with the evidence regarding Adam’s behaviour just prior to the incident, led to the jury’s determination that Adam did not commit suicide.” Regarding the verdict reached by the jury, we are obligated to defer to their decision.
Why Jason Killed her ?
At first sight, it appeared as though Austin had shot and killed his mother before turning the gun on himself. However, as the authorities looked more into it, they became aware that there was an issue. Nichole was found to have a very strong odour of gunpowder, despite the fact that there was no evidence of gunpowder in the garage. Although it appeared that Austin had been dead for some time, Nichole was still alive and could be touched. At the time of his funeral, the cause of death for Austin was listed as undetermined.
Jason asserted that he had gotten out of bed that morning at approximately 7 o’clock in order to drive Joseph and Austin to their respective schools. After then, Austin was already seated in the car with Riley and Joseph as he was still getting in. According to Jason, he waited for the adolescent to emerge from the building before leaving and coming back with Riley at approximately 8:15 in the morning. When Jason found Riley dead, he told Nichole that he had gone inside the house to tell her about Riley’s desire to go to the park, but in reality, he had found her already dead.
The investigators found a $100,000 insurance policy that was in Nichole’s name, and Jason was identified as the beneficiary on the policy. This led to the formation of additional suspicions. There was also no indication that Austin had entertained thoughts of committing murder, either against his mother or against himself. The family’s cash resources were low, which, according to a comprehensive analysis of their financial status, opened the door for the possibility of Jason having a financial incentive for his actions. Because of this, the police were under the impression that the crime scene had been staged. There was evidence to support that assertion.
The absence of fingerprints on the gun lends credence to the theory that it had been wiped down prior to its discovery by the authorities. In the trunk of Jason’s car was a washcloth that had been splattered with Nichole’s blood and bullet fragments. The investigation led the investigators to the conclusion that Jason cleansed both the gun and himself of blood. An expert witness at Austin’s trial claimed that the gun was around 10 to 12 inches away from Austin when he was wounded, and given the length of the barrel, it seemed unlikely that Austin had inflicted the wound on himself. In addition, a blood spatter expert vouched for the fact that Austin was not holding the barrel at the time that blood splatter formed on his hand.
The testimony provided by Nichole’s family members painted a bleak picture of the state of her relationship with Jason. According to one of Nichole’s exes, in August of 2007, she expressed to him her desire to leave the place where she was living since she was unhappy there. During the trial, Jason’s friend Andrea Scott testified that he constantly requested Riley to tell Nichole that she hated her and to hurt her mother. Andrea also stated that Jason encouraged Riley to hurt her mother. Jennifer Morton, one of Nichole’s other close friends, is the one who allegedly overheard the 35-year-old woman expressing her intention to quit her relationship with Jason.
Another upsetting revelation is that Riley disclosed in a session of therapy that she had seen her father shoot both her mother and one of her siblings. As a result, Jason was found to be responsible for the murders. In 2010, he was found guilty of the offences, and he was given a sentence that included a life sentence without the possibility of release. On the other hand, the conviction was overturned in the year 2013. On the other hand, Jason was sentenced to the same punishment back in March 2016, and he will not be released from prison until the end of his natural life.