By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
A man who was accused of killing his mother and girlfriend avoided a possible death sentence Friday by pleading guilty to the women’s 2010 murders.
At a change-of-plea hearing, John Payne, 39, admitted he shot and killed Meredith King, 32, and Cornelia Gayle Mullins, 55, at Mullins’ home in November 2010.
This week was the deadline for attorneys to tell Judge Jean C. Logue if Payne wanted to proceed with the trial, which had been scheduled for April 15.
As part of the plea deal, Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith recommended sentences of life without the possibility of parole for 25 years on each murder charge.
During the hearing, Logue informed Payne that by pleading guilty he was waiving his right to an appeal.
Payne also pleaded guilty to charges of theft by unlawful taking and being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun. The recommended sentence on each charge is 20 years in prison.
In another case, Payne admitted he escaped from the Madison County Detention Center on Oct. 22, 2011. He also received a 20-year sentence recommendation after pleading guilty to second-degree escape.
Payne’s potential sentences on the lesser charges were enhanced because he already is a felon and sex offender. He was convicted on a charge of third-degree rape involving a15-year-old girl prior to the murders.
Payne’s sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 20.
Payne gives details of murders
Nearly 50 friends and family members of Payne’s victims filled the courthouse Friday afternoon, many wearing T-shirts with King’s picture on it along with purple and yellow remembrance ribbons.
A heavy silence fell over the audience minutes before bailiffs brought Payne, shackled hand and foot, into the courtroom.
In a quiet and matter-of-fact tone, Payne gave a detailed version of what happened at his mother’s home the last week of November 2010.
Payne admitted shooting his mother after they got into an argument over belongings he was storing in his Mullins’ lockbox. His mother was still breathing after he shot her, Payne said.
Payne said he began crying and “telling her I was sorry.” After calling King into the room, he covered his mother with a quilt, the defendant said.
Next, Payne said he thought he heard someone outside and grabbed another gun. When he returned from checking the front door, King was in the kitchen and she begged him to put the gun down.
“Meredith was sitting there telling me, ‘Baby, drop the gun,’” he said.
Payne claimed King lunged for the gun, and he shot her.
In both explanations, Payne said he was “criminally responsible” for the women’s deaths.
The two bodies were not discovered until nearly a week after their murders, according to police reports. Payne was arrested Dec. 4, 2010, after he was found at a Berea hotel.
After the hearing, King’s mother, Sharlene Evans, said the family had decided not to make any public statements until after Payne’s sentencing. However, she did confirm that the commonwealth’s attorney and his staff had spent many hours in consultation with the victims’ families about the case and the plea deal.
As everyone filed out of the courtroom after the hearing, Evans approached Payne’s attorneys, both public advocates, exchanged a few words with them and shook their hands.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.