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HILLSVILLE — A 26-year-old Hillsville woman got a new $20,000 bond last Wednesday after an appeal, based on the belief that her home electronic monitoring equipment malfunctioned.
Amanda Payne faces charges of allegedly acting as an accomplice in the Nov. 13, 2007 fatal double shooting at 268 Frog Spur Road in Fancy Gap that left George Adam Fulton, 19, and Dustin Bond, 17, dead.
Payne is charged with two counts of conspiring to commit murder and two counts of first-degree murder as a principal in the second degree.
Clinton Eric Burke, 21, of Hillsville faces two murder charges and two counts of using a firearm in the incident.
Payne had been free on $100,000 bond since Nov. 20, staying with her parents at their Coulson Church Road home and awaiting further court hearings when the alleged bond violations occurred.
New River Community Corrections, which provides home electronic monitoring for Payne, reported to the presiding Carroll Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge that the equipment indicated that Payne had committed violations by leaving her home for minutes at a time on 11 occasions.
That led the judge, Keith Blankenship, to revoke Payne’s bond.
Defense attorney Dwight Compton appealed the bond ruling to circuit court Judge Brett Geisler last Wednesday.
Payne’s parents, Debbie and the Rev. Russell Payne, testified that they could account for their daughter’s whereabouts during many of the times that the home electronic monitor had shown her going outside of its range.
Referring to daily notes that the family keeps, Debbie Payne offered accounts of what her daughter was doing at many of the times the alleged violations were recorded.
Evenings often found the Paynes watching television or movies or working a puzzle together. All three testified to watching the Giants vs. Cowboys football game together, for example, during one occasion when the device indicated that Payne had left her monitored area.
The box also showed a violation on Thanksgiving Day, when Debbie Payne said the entire family was together for the holiday and Amanda never left the house.
Many of the violations happened at times when Amanda would have been in the basement, either watching television or sleeping.
There is a door in the basement to the outside, but it sticks and no one can open it without making a loud racket, family members testified.
Debbie Payne became convinced that her basement had “dead spots” that were keeping the monitor from working properly.
She charted these spots by taking her cell phone around and making a note of where it had no signal. Debbie Payne testified that she found four dead spots in the lower level of the house.
The Paynes, as a result, connected the monitoring equipment to a dedicated phone line and moved Amanda out of the basement and into the guest room.
The family worried that the violations came from Amanda going out on the carport to smoke cigarettes, so now she just opens the door in the kitchen and pokes her head outside to smoke, as Amanda testified.
Besides what the monitoring system has shown, Amada Payne has complied with all the requirements of her pre-trial release, Debbie Payne said. She’s working, she calls the community corrections officials before she leaves to go to court, to see her attorney, to go to her job or to church, and she calls after she gets back home, makes her appointments with pre-trial services representatives and shows no traces of drugs during her screenings.
“She gets to the phone and calls just as quickly as she can,” Russell Payne testified.
The Paynes said they didn’t know anything about these alleged violations. They had been told somebody would call or come by if the box showed there was a problem, Russell Payne said.
Amanda even called the corrections officials when she heard the box clicking, because she was afraid it might be showing a violation when she was really at home.
There was one time that the Paynes knew that Amanda had gone outside the home — when she took some food out to her sister’s car.
Amanda Payne got released on bond without even being fitted with the ankle bracelet monitor by the jailers, the accused testified. So she reported again the next day and she got the bracelet and the box and was told by jailers how to hook it up.
She asked about its range, whether she could go across the road and get mail, for example. She doesn’t go outside any more for fear of the box showing her leaving the perimeter.
“I’m too scared to leave the house,” Amanda Payne said on the witness stand.
She asked the corrections officials to check the bracelet and box to make sure they’re working right.
Amanda testified that she is rarely alone now. She gets driven to work and stays inside for fear she’ll be accused of something if she does.
“I feel like I have a babysitter now, but it’s for my own protection.”
Rather than a malfunction, Carroll Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Goad asked Amanda if there wasn’t something else going on.
“You’re slipping out on your parents to go see your friends, aren’t you?” he asked.
“No, sir, I’m not,” Payne replied.
Goad called on Angela Gautier, the regional jail’s house arrest and work release officer, to explain the workings of the home electronic monitoring system.
She issued the unit to the family and put the bracelet on Amanda and gave them instructions.
The unit was set up properly at the home, Gautier testified. It checks itself regularly through the phone line that it’s connected to in the home — called a “sanity” in the corrections lingo.
Gautier went over pages of reports with Goad, detailing times that the box showed Amanda leaving and coming back and when the unit checks itself.
The box has several “sanity checks” a day, and one of them occurred when Amanda Payne had left the monitoring area, Gautier said.
What does that tell you? Goad prompted Gautier.
“That it’s working perfectly,” she responded.
The box may beep out loud if somebody uses the phone for an extended period of time, so the person on the line will know that it’s trying to perform its information download, she explained.
Gautier got the bracelet when Payne returned to the jail. The officer brought it and a portable device with her, and left the bracelet in her vehicle to see if the signal could be picked up from inside the Carroll County Governmental Center. Her test showed the bracelet was working properly.
The officer answered Payne’s question on the phone about her monitor, saying the device was working fine.
Could the monitor get frequency interference from outside sources? Compton asked.
Yes, Gautier answered, but interference would show up in the report.
It would also have to be a strong signal in the same frequency range as her monitor, like an airport, she said.
Compton asked if Gautier was aware that the Twin County Airport is probably about a mile from the Payne home.
Gautier said she knows. “We have other people on the monitor in Hillsville, not just her.”
In closing arguments, Compton said he felt it was inconsistent that Payne would abide by all the other restrictions placed on her, but leave her home for minutes at a time.
The jail officer admitted that other radio signals could affect the box, and Compton believes that’s the more likely explanation.
The testimony from all three Paynes was that Amanda is not leaving the house, and they’ve been together during several of the alerts, the defense attorney argued. What do the community corrections officials think Payne is doing for the six- to 12-minute intervals when she’s supposedly violating her bond?
“She’s not missing long enough to get into any troubleee” he said.
He suspects the prosecution is trying to keep Payne in jail until her Feb. 25 preliminary hearing in district court.
Goad said the evidence shows that Payne has been leaving her home for brief periods of time, in violation of her bond. The prosecutor asked that Payne be held without bond.
Judge Brett Geisler agreed that these were unusual circumstances.
Given the testimony that Payne has been with her family when the monitor showed her out of the area, Geisler looked at other particulars in the case.
“Something doesn’t quite figure,” he noted.
With evidence showing that Payne isn’t doing anything wrong and that she is meeting all the other requirements of her bond, Geisler granted her an additional $20,000 bond.
This bond was for the warrant that was issued for her after the alleged bond violations.
The judge asked that the jail issue Payne a new bracelet and box when she gets out of jail this time.
Geisler concluded that he was giving Payne the benefit of the doubt this time, but he won’t reverse another judge’s ruling if there are more alleged bond violations.