WARRENTON, Ga. - Hours before her two young children wandered away and drowned, Lottie Payne participated in a night of group sex with strangers from a telephone chat room, the prosecutor in her trial said Monday.
"The Romans called it an orgy," District Attorney Dennis Sanders told jurors during the first day of her trial. "I don't know what you call it today."
Mrs. Payne is charged with two counts of second-degree cruelty to children in the deaths of Jonah Payne, 3, and his 2-year-old sister, Nicole, whose bodies were recovered from a retention pond in April 2005.
Mr. Sanders called nine witnesses Monday in efforts to characterize the defendant as a sorry, criminally negligent parent who repeatedly failed to properly care for her children, despite inquiries by social service organizations.
"It was a pattern I think you'll find disturbing," he said during opening statements before Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr. "And it was headed right toward the disaster that eventually occurred."
Joey Holloway, a volunteer social worker from Glascock County, said he became involved with Mrs. Payne and her husband, Dennis Payne, in 2003 after she left Jonah home alone to attend a New Year's Eve party.
Other problems, he said, included smoking in the house around the infant and repeatedly leaving him home alone while she left to use neighbors' telephones.
"She seemed remorseful," Mr. Holloway said. He helped the Paynes with instruction on parenting, safety and child welfare, he said.
Cathy Coleman, who rented a mobile home in Glascock County to Mrs. Payne before she moved to Warrenton, recalled finding Jonah wandering in the street.
"He was the sweetest little thing you've ever seen," she said. "He had dark hair, dark-brown eyes, and he'd hold up his arms - wanting someone to love him."
She said she drove the child back to his home, knocked on the door and asked Mrs. Payne whether she knew where her child was.
"She said, 'He's right here,' and I told her he was sitting outside in my truck," Mrs. Coleman testified.
The Georgia Department of Family and Children's Services became involved with the Payne home, child protection worker Lisa Johnson testified.
"We had done parenting classes, homestead services in the home," she said. "They had met the goals of the program, and we were preparing to close the case."
About a month before the children died, emergency medical technician Charles Cumber was dispatched to the Payne home, where Nicole had suffered mild chemical burns on her face and scalp from hair remover.
"She had climbed up and got a bottle of hair remover, and it was poured onto her face and head," he said. Although she was calm, she was taken to a Thomson hospital to be examined, he said.
The night before Jonah and Nicole wandered from their home to their deaths, the Paynes held a late-night sex party with a Thomson couple they had met just an hour earlier over the telephone, officials said.
Tommy Story testified that he called a toll number he saw advertised on television, in which callers can hear recorded messages from people in their area.
"I called the number after I saw it on TV," Mr. Story testified. "I heard Lottie."
Her message, he said, was that she was "interested in meeting a couple for sex."
Mr. Story testified he called Mrs. Payne about midnight.
"What did you tell her?" Mr. Sanders asked.
"That we was interested," Mr. Story replied. "She said, 'Yeah, come on over.'"
Mr. Story testified that later that night he and his wife, Kelly, drove from Thomson to the Paynes' home in Warrenton, arriving at about 1:30 a.m. on April 23. While the couples were "getting acquainted" in the Paynes' living room, Nicole awakened and Mrs. Payne brought the child into the room with them.
Mr. Story testified that Mrs. Payne took the child back to bed before the sex occurred.
"I'm not going to get into the details," Mr. Sanders said, "but it's fair to say everybody was having sex? And not just with each other?"
"Yes," Mr. Story replied. He later testified that Mr. Payne even provided condoms.
"He asked what color I wanted," Mr. Story testified. "I said it didn't matter to me."
The encounter lasted until about 4 a.m. or later, he said.
Mrs. Payne's defense attorney, Michael Garrett, has not yet had an opportunity to call his defense witnesses.
He said during opening statements, though, that his client is not a criminal and took her eyes off her children for only a moment to use the bathroom.
"It all boils down to five or six minutes," he said. "Their pattern of behavior did not cost these children their lives."
Mrs. Payne could face 10 years in prison if convicted.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or email@example.com.
On April 23, 2005, Lottie Kain (who later married and changed her name to Lottie Payne) reported that children, Jonah, 3, and Nicole, 2, missing from their home on Lake Drive in Warrenton, Ga. Two days later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that the children's bodies had been found floating in a fenced sewage pond several hundred yards from the Payne home. On July 5, Mrs. Payne was charged with two counts of cruelty to children in the second degree. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Mrs. Payne's trial continues today in Warrenton.
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