Jury: Fatal hammer attack of roommate in Parkland not self-defense

The more than 60 hammer blows that killed James Patrick Payne did not amount to self-defense, a jury decided Tuesday.

Richard Blair, 45, nodded briefly after the guilty verdict for first-degree murder was read.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had a self-defense claim rejected in Pierce County Superior Court, but this time it was for a homicide, not an assault.

The two men were living in a shed behind a Parkland home when, on Jan. 31, 2015, Blair told someone who lived in the main residence that he’d killed Payne and asked for help burying his roommate.

Instead, another resident called 911, and investigators found the 51-year-old’s body in the shed.

Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Benton said in his closing statement that, if the attack had been self defense as Blair contended, he would have called for help afterward.

Instead, he sought to get rid of the body.

Benton showed the jury photos of Payne after the attack and said he was beaten “almost beyond recognition.”

He argued that the extent of the injuries, which included cuts, made the attack more than just a fight.

“Maybe Jimmy ticked him off,” Benton said. “... Jimmy didn’t hit him full on in the head with a hammer.”

Blair argued that Payne was the one who attacked him with the hammer as Blair slept, and that Blair managed to get it away and defend himself.

Defense attorney Michael Steven Clark told the jury a self-defense claim requires fear of great personal injury.

“Clearly, getting whacked with a hammer means that,” he said.

He argued there was no evidence that Blair wasn’t attacked first, and said Blair tried to let Payne up during the attack, but that Payne continued to fight and said he would kill Blair.

As for Blair’s behavior after the attack, the attorney said, he tried to distance himself from the situation because a prior assault charge and failed self-defense argument in a different case had landed him in prison.

“He’s not going to trust the system this time,” Clark said.

Blair has more than 16 previous felonies, including assault, burglary and drug charges.

His sentencing might be as soon as Thursday or could be rescheduled for later this year.

Benton said in court that one of Payne’s family members might need time to travel to the sentencing from out of state.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell