When Cornell Smith walked into a Boston courtroom Monday, Nicholas Payne pulled his wife, Virginia, closer to him with his left arm draped over her shoulders. For the first time, they saw the man accused of killing their only daughter.
Rebecca Payne was 22 years old and a Northeastern University student at home in her Mission Hill apartment when she was shot to death on May 20, 2008.
“It was heart-wrenching to be looking at that face, the reason [my daughter] is not here,’’ Virginia Payne said after the 30-year-old Smith’s arraignment on first-degree murder charges in Suffolk Superior Court. “My stomach was in knots.’’
Trial Magistrate Gary Wilson ordered Smith held without bail.
Rebecca Payne, according to Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum, was an innocent victim who was shot to death in a case of mistaken identity in a feud over drugs that did not involve her.
Prosecutors outlined their case Monday, saying Smith got into a fistfight with a woman in downtown Boston earlier in May.
Polumbaum said Smith’s opponent “looked, at least from a distance, quite a bit like Miss Payne.’’
Early on the morning on May 20, prosecutors said, Smith was driven to Mission Hill by a truck driver he allegedly supplied crack cocaine to and in the company of a second man who has not been publicly identified by authorities.
The truck driver, Michael Balba, allegedly sat in his Ford sport utility vehicle doing drugs supplied to him by Smith. (In May, Balba, 55, pleaded not guilty to four counts of perjury in the case and was ordered held on $100,000 bail.)
With the unidentified man standing guard, Smith allegedly made his way onto the balcony connected to Payne’s second-floor apartment, according to authorities and court records from Balba’s arraignment.
Smith stormed into the apartment around 3:30 a.m., authorities said. Payne was lying on her couch and screamed when he entered. Smith allegedly shot Payne in the face, torso, and limbs, killing her, according to prosecutors.
Polumbaum said in court Monday that Payne’s screams and the sounds of gunfire were heard by neighbors, but nobody called 911.
During the brief court hearing, Smith spoke only to say “not guilty’’ when asked to enter a plea to charges of first-degree murder, armed assault in a dwelling, and possession of a firearm.
Smith is currently serving a federal sentence for a drug conviction and his court-appointed attorney, Jeffrey T. Karp, did not argue the issue of bail. Karp, in brief comments after Smith’s arraignment, said someone has wrongly identified Smith as Payne’s killer.
Smith never looked in the direction of the Paynes, who said they were struck by his cold demeanor while being described as the killer of an innocent woman. The Paynes are Connecticut residents. Their daughter was near the end of her collegiate career and hoping to pursue a job as an athletic trainer.
Virginia Payne called Smith a “parasite.’’ Nicholas Payne reflected: “We look at him and say, ‘That’s evil and stupidity mixed together’ and we wish we didn’t have to see him, but we know we have to.’’