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With Execution Near, Doubts About Guilt Arise Three Jurors, Victim’s Mother Concerned About ‘86 Conviction

Sun., Nov. 3, 1996, midnight

Days before Joseph Payne is to be executed for the torching murder of a fellow inmate, three jurors are expressing doubts about his guilt and the victim’s mother is calling for clemency.

“I don’t want Joe Payne to die,” Reba Dunford, David Dunford’s mother, said in court papers. “I have doubts that Joe Payne killed my son.”

Payne, 40, is scheduled to be executed Thursday for murdering Dunford, 28, a fellow inmate who was doused with paint thinner and set ablaze in 1985. Dunford died nine days later without identifying his killer.

Payne, already serving a life term for robbery and murder, was convicted after another inmate, Robert Smith, testified he saw Payne set the fire. In exchange for his testimony, Smith had 15 years shaved off his 40-year sentence for armed robbery.

A year after Payne’s 1986 trial, Smith recanted his testimony - only to later recant his recantation. He has been released from prison but Virginia has issued a warrant for his arrest for violating parole.

Payne’s lawyer called only one witness - an inmate who said he saw Smith set the fire. Other inmates who had come to the trial to give similar testimony waited in a locked van outside the courthouse, but were not called by the defense.

Juror Phyllis Joan Forrester, in an affidavit, said the jury’s decision “probably would have changed” if the panel had heard the testimony of those inmates.

Another juror, Shelly Brydie Gray, said she was pressured to return a guilty verdict.

“I did not want to convict Joseph Payne,” she said, also in an affidavit.


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