Originally created 09/02/06

Gag order issued in child drownings trial



WARRENTON, Ga. - A judge Friday agreed to impose a gag order limiting pretrial statements to the media in the case of a Warren County woman facing felony charges in the 2005 drowning deaths of her two children.

Lottie Payne was charged with two counts of second-degree cruelty to children after authorities recovered the bodies of Jonah Payne, 3, and his 2-year-old sister, Nicole, from a retention pond April 23, 2005.

Although autopsies confirmed they had drowned and a grand jury ruled the deaths were accidental, the charges against the children's mother were based on a pattern of unacceptable behavior, according to Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders, who will try the case.

"Supervision was not employed that should have been employed for children who had a history of getting away," Mr. Sanders said during a 2005 interview with The Augusta Chronicle.

The toddlers wandered away from the family home on Lake Drive and fell into a one-acre sewage pond, where their bodies were later recovered. Mrs. Payne, who could face 10 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded innocent to the charges.

During a 90-minute hearing Friday in Warren County Superior Court, prosecutors claimed recent newspaper and television coverage of the case was influenced by Mrs. Payne's husband, Dennis Payne, and contained "propaganda" that could prejudice the local jury pool.

"What the state is trying to do is have a fair trial, not only for the defendant, but for Warren County," Assistant District Attorney Bill Doup told Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr.

Mr. Doup referred to a re- cent story in The McDuffie Progress newspaper that quoted Mr. Payne asserting that some unknown third party was responsible for the children's deaths, not his wife.

Similar stories appeared on television and in The Chronicle, he said, and such coverage included potentially juror-influencing photos of the Paynes grieving at the children's graves.

Mrs. Payne's attorney, Michael Garrett, told the judge he doesn't object to a gag order, but he urged that it be made specific to parties to the case, and not to the public.

"The story was not about the trial, it was a human interest story," he said.

"Can Lottie Payne not tell anyone of her grief?"

Mr. Doup told the judge Mr. Payne has unfettered access to all facets of the case and should be prohibited from making further pretrial statements to the media.

"He knows how to use the media and how to work it," he said.

"Without a gag order, he will very likely continue to do it."

Judge Dunaway agreed, saying he will draft a written order soon.

The judge added, however, that he will not place restrictions on media access to courtroom hearings or public records.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS IN THE DROWNING DEATHS OF JONAH AND NICOLE PAYNE

April 23, 2005: Lottie Kain (who later married and changed her name to Lottie Payne) reports her children, Jonah, 3, and Nicole, 2, missing from their home on Lake Drive.


April 24: Volunteers and emergency workers scour the woods near the home in Warrenton, Ga.


April 25: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announces that Jonah and Nicole's bodies were found floating in an algae-encrusted, fenced sewage pond several hundred yards from the Payne home.


April 26: Autopsies determine the children drowned.


April 27: GBI agents explain that the Paynes bought a lock for a fence gate the day the toddlers vanished to prevent them from running off. They were not able to use the lock, though, because they didn't have the needed drill bit, according to officials.


July 5: Mrs. Payne is charged with two counts of cruelty to children in the second degree.


Aug. 8: Mrs. Payne pleads not guilty to the charges against her.



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