Crime

Man sentenced to more than 41 years for Parkland hammer attack that killed roommate

Family of hammer attack victim speaks

Lisa Wells talks about her brother, 51-year-old James "Jimmy" Payne. Payne was fatally beaten with a hammer by 45-year-old Richard Blair, who was sentenced Thursday to more than 41 years in prison.
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Lisa Wells talks about her brother, 51-year-old James "Jimmy" Payne. Payne was fatally beaten with a hammer by 45-year-old Richard Blair, who was sentenced Thursday to more than 41 years in prison.

As Pierce County Judge Ronald Culpepper sentenced Richard Blair to more than 41 years in prison Thursday, he said he didn’t think anyone bought Blair’s account of why he killed his roommate with more than 60 blows of a hammer and cuts to his body.

“Mr. Blair’s stories I don’t think anyone believes,” the Superior County judge said about 51-year-old James “Jimmy” Patrick Payne’s death.

Blair contended he awoke Jan. 31, 2015, to Payne attacking him with a hammer at the Parkland shed where they were living. Fearing Payne was going to kill him, he grabbed the hammer and fought back in self-defense, Blair said.

“Jimmy was my friend,” Blair said. “He just went crazy that night like he was possessed by the devil himself.”

A jury rejected that version of events this week when they convicted Blair of first-degree murder. Culpepper sentenced him to 41 years, three months, which was about the middle of Blair’s standard sentencing range.

Deputy prosecutor Kevin Benton cited the brutality of the attack and Blair’s 16 prior felonies in asking for a high end sentence of 45 years, eight months.

Defense attorney Michael Clark said evidence suggested Blair was defending himself, and that a low end sentence of 34 years, three months was appropriate.

“What would remain a mystery to me is how this thing started,” Clark said. “… He was defending himself at some point.”

Blair told the court he panicked after the attack, and that he should have called 911. Instead, prosecutors said he asked someone to help him get rid of the body.

Blair said he blamed others in the home adjacent to the shed for not calling for help sooner after he told them what had happened. Those people called 911, which led investigator’s to find Payne’s body in the shed.

On Thursday, Blair apologized to Payne’s family for his death.

“I’m sorry he went crazy on a suicide mission to kill me,” he said.

The suicide argument Blair made — that cuts found on Payne’s wrists were self-inflicted — didn’t fly with the jury.

Juror Judith Line attended the sentencing, and said outside court the fact that Payne’s versions of events varied was what in part led to his conviction.

“He changed his story,” she said. “We didn’t believe Jimmy would have slit his wrists and then attacked somebody.”

Line also said the jury noted Blair could have left at any time, instead of continuing the attack.

Payne’s sister, Lisa Wells, told the court this was the third time she’s lost a sibling to homicide.

Blair’s actions, she said, had reopened emotional wounds from the deaths of her oldest brother, Daniel Payne, and her younger sister, Kimberly Payne.

Her sister was found strangled at a Pierce County gravel pit in 1986. Police later linked serial killer Timothy Burkhart to the homicide. He killed himself as police were investigating the cold case killing in 2001.

Speaking of Jimmy Payne, Wells told the judge he was an artistic man, known in the family for his handmade birthday and Christmas cards. He was one of eight kids, and has many nieces and nephews who miss him.

Wells said her brother was not aggressive, and that he negotiated through conflict.

She described his life as fraught with challenges. He suffered an abusive childhood, she said, and low oxygen levels at birth kept his mind from developing past that of a 16-year-old.

“Because of this he suffered tremendously trying to survive in a world whose expectations were way above his ability,” Wells said, also noting he never stopped trying.

She said he had let Blair stay with him, and she told Blair he’d killed “someone who was concerned for your well-being so much that he invited you into his very small living space just to get you out of the cold.”

After court Wells said she thought the sentence was just, and that anything less would have put the community at risk.

Culpepper noted Blair’s 16 prior felonies, and said he appeared unable or unwilling to follow the law, culminating with the murder conviction.

In his final remarks, the judge concisely addressed the points Blair had raised.

Comparing Blair’s relationship with Payne to the attack, the judge said: “That’s not how you treat a friend.”

As far as the self-defense argument, Culpepper pointed out that Blair’s injuries appeared insignificant in comparison.

“All you have to do is look at the pictures,” he said. “Mr. Payne is unrecognizable.”

At some point, the judge said Payne probably went unconscious, and that instead of calling 911, “Mr. Blair kept going and slit his wrists to try to make up this story.”

As for the people in the adjacent home and why they didn’t call for help sooner, the judge told Blair: “They left the house because you were there.”

Getting hit, Culpepper told Blair, does not allow someone to kill.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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