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Two charged in murder of Rebecca Payne

Updated 9:37 am, Monday, May 14, 2012

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  • SPECTRUM/Rebecca Payne of New Milford, who died in 2008 in Boston. She was a member of the Class of 2004 at New Milford High School. Photo: Contributed Photo
    SPECTRUM/Rebecca Payne of New Milford, who died in 2008 in Boston. She was a member of the Class of 2004 at New Milford High School. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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"Becca's March for Peace and Justice," a march in memory of Rebecca Payne of New Milford ,will be held May 20 in Boston. A bus will depart from New Milford High School on Route 7 South at 9 a.m. and return by 8 p.m. Miss Payne, a member of the New Milford High School, Class of 2004, was murdered in Boston in 2008. The march will raise awareness of Miss Payne's case and all violence. For more information or to reserve a space on the bus, call 860-350-6625.
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Rebecca Payne's father said he and his wife feel "some measure of relief" now that police have charged two men in connection with the murder of their daughter in her Boston apartment nearly four years ago.

A grand jury has indicted convicted crack cocaine dealer Cornell Smith, 30, with the May 20, 2008, murder of the 22-year-old New Milford woman, a New Milford High School graduate and then student at Northeastern University.

A second man, Michael Balba of Billerica, Mass., whom police believe was one of Mr. Smith's customers, was indicted for lying to the grand jury.

Meanwhile, Mr. Payne and his wife, Virginia, are making plans for "Becca's March for Peace," which will be held May 20 in Boston, the fourth anniversary of the murder. A bus will be available for area residents who want to go to Boston to participate. For information, call the Paynes at 860-350-6625.

"We'll be marching from her apartment to downtown," Mr. Payne said.

The Paynes were in a Suffolk County, Mass., courtroom in Boston April 30 when Mr. Balba, a 55-year-old long-haul trucker and admitted drug user, was arraigned on four counts of perjury.

His bond was set at $100,000 cash, and he is due back in court June 6.

Even though investigators said Mr. Balba was an unwitting accomplice to the crime, Mr. Payne said he feels no sympathy for the man whom a prosecutor said delayed a resolution to the case with his lies.

"Had this defendant not lied during that investigation, Becca's parents might not have had to wait four years to find some measure of accountability in their daughter's death," said District Attorney Daniel Conley.

"We know he was the driver, but we have no sympathy for him,"Mr. Payne said. "The penalty for perjury in a murder case can be very severe."

The district attorney said Rebecca Payne was "truly an innocent victim" and had no connection to Mr. Smith or Mr. Balba.

Authorities said Mr. Balba, the married father of two adult children, drove Mr. Smith and another, as yet unnamed man to Miss Payne's apartment building and waited across the street while Mr. Smith went inside and killed her.

Mr. Balba initially told police he made regular trips to Boston to purchase crack from Mr. Smith, who he knew as "Jeff."

But when he was questioned during the grand jury hearings about events on the night Miss Payne was killed, Mr. Balba testified "Jeff" never asked him to give anyone else a ride, that he didn't hear any gunshots, and that nothing unusual ever happened on his crack-buying trips, according to Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Ira Polumbaum.

"If he has no memory, then he has no memory," defense attorney James Dangora Jr. told Boston.com. "He did testify and he cooperated to his fullest ability."

Mr. Payne said the prosecutor called last week to advise him and his wife that a break in the case was near.

"We always had hope that they would eventually solve it, and we feel that at least now there is a timetable by which justice will be done," he said.

Mr. Payne also said a third person being involved in the case came as news to him.

"It was as great a mystery to us as it was to you," he said.

Mr. Conley told Boston TV station WHDH more information about the mystery man would be released when Mr. Smith, who is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence in California, is returned to Boston to face the murder charge.

Mr. Smith is also accused of armed assault in a dwelling and unlawful possession of a firearm.

"There is another individual who was present at the crime scene," Mr. Conley said. "We're not going to identify him today. We'll speak more clearly about him when Cornell Smith is arraigned."

But a spokesman for Mr. Conley's office said it could be weeks, or even months, before that occurs.

jpirro@newstimes.com; 203-731-3342