- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - A judge has denied a bid for a new trial for a former Pennsylvania high school teacher serving a life sentence for the 1975 strangulation murder of a student.

Raymond Payne had said DNA tests supported his contention that his life sentence was excessive.

The 79-year-old Payne was convicted of murdering 16-year-old Debbie Gama. He’s serving his sentence at the state prison at Laurel Highlands.

Payne pleaded guilty in 1977 to a general homicide charge. A panel of Erie County judges unanimously convicted him of first-degree murder after hearing testimony from one of his cellmates, who said Payne claimed he raped Gama.

Payne was never convicted of sexual assault. He has maintained the Erie teen’s death was accidental and he should’ve been convicted of lesser charges.

He has also denied sexually assaulting Gama. Court-ordered tests show that his DNA wasn’t found in seminal material on the body.

The Erie Times-News reports (https://bit.ly/1T6ciBM ) Erie County Judge John Garhart ruled Wednesday that the results don’t clear Payne, but rather indicate an accomplice was possibly involved.

Garhart found that Payne’s version of events that Gama died accidentally while he was taking bondage photos of her was a “teetering tower of coincidence.”

He said evidence - including his own statement - proves the former Strong Vincent High School teacher intentionally strangled Gama.

District Attorney Jack Daneri said prosecutors are happy with the ruling.

Daneri had said the DNA was too degraded to match with other potential suspects, and that the option to investigate an accomplice has been “thwarted” by Payne.

“As the court stated, if it is true, it is a secret the defendant has not shared for 40 years,” he said.

Payne’s lawyer, Anderson Bailey, said he’s reviewing the ruling.


Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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