Crime

Elderly Killer Incompetent to Stand Trial for Now — and Probably Forever

Okey Payne's booking photo and an image from a February court appearance.
Okey Payne's booking photo and an image from a February court appearance. Lafayette Police Department/CBS4 file photo
The headline on our February post about a fatal shooting at an assisted-living facility in Lafayette reads "Why Okey Payne, 95, Is Unlikely to Stand Trial for Alleged Murder" — and it's proven to be prescient. On August 17, the Boulder District Attorney's Office announced that Payne is not competent to stand trial right now. And while that isn't necessarily the final word on the subject, the odds of Payne actually going to jail for the slaying are very small.

The narrative on Payne's arrest affidavit begins at 7:13 a.m. February 3 at Legacy Assisted Living, where he was already in custody for allegedly killing Ricardo Medina-Rojas, a 44-year-old staffer, with a single gunshot to the head. Payne was subsequently transported to the police station in Lafayette, where his Miranda rights were written out for him; he's extremely hard of hearing. According to the document, Payne waived his right to remain silent and elected to speak to investigators.

During the chat that followed, Payne maintained that staff members at Legacy had been stealing from him since October 2019 — claims that were reportedly investigated and debunked. Nonetheless, he was convinced he was being victimized, and even went to the trouble of writing down the serial numbers of the currency he kept in his wallet.

On the morning of February 2, Payne told officers, he found two $100 bills missing. The next day, he rose at around 3 a.m., got dressed and headed to the front lobby. When Medina-Rojas, a maintenance worker, arrived for his shift, Payne asked him, "Where's my $200?" In response, Payne said Medina-Rojas "mumbled something," after which he pointed a gun at the staffer's head and fired.

An excerpt from the report: "Okey told me he 'Blew Ricardo away.' Okey stated it was too bad he had to 'waste' him (Ricardo), but he's hoping if something good comes from all this is that the stealing will stop."

Legacy workers had previously told Payne that he couldn't keep a firearm in his room; he said they placed his .22 caliber rifle and a Beretta handgun inside a storage container that was kept at a separate Boulder facility, but he still had a .45 caliber ACP that dated back to World War I and was a gift from his father that he'd received when he was 23.

His competency is addressed in this passage of the warrant: "Throughout the hours this affiant spent interviewing Okey, this affiant observed that Okey was clear-headed, lucid, and he provided detailed information regarding this incident. Okey was orientated to date and time and at no point did Okey appear confused or unable to comprehend questions or our conversation. Okey had difficulty hearing, but we were able to communicate through written questions and verbal answers."

However, a separate section points out that "Okey told this affiant that he thinks the staff at the Legacy are trying to kill him and take all his money. He also believes his ex-wife is working with them to steal his money. Okey told this affiant he has woken up with needle marks in his big toe and he believes the staff are drugging him."

Payne was the oldest person in Colorado to be busted for homicide in decades, as well as one of the oldest in the country to ever face such accusations. Massachusetts's Laura Lundquist was 98 on September 24, 2009, when she allegedly strangled her nursing-home roommate, 100-year-old Elizabeth Barrow; a plastic bag was found over Barrow's head. Lundquist suffered from dementia, resulting in a determination that she wasn't competent to stand trial; she was assigned to a state psychiatric hospital.

A similar scenario was involved in the case of St. Augustine, Florida, resident Amanda Stevenson, who was formally charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting her nephew, Johnny Rice, on September 25, 2011, when she was 98. In July 2012, a judge found her incompetent to stand trial, and in October 2013, the charge against her was dropped.

Likewise, the district attorney in Maplewood, Minnesota, declined to prosecute Kenneth Bowser, 90, after he allegedly killed his son, 65-year-old Larry Bowser, on September 12, 2015. The reason: The elder Bowser suffered from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Florida's Ramona Lund, 86, also evaded prosecution for beating her 89-year-old husband to death with a cane in January 2019; she died shortly after being found incompetent to stand trial and being sent to a state mental hospital.

Not every case involving senior citizens suspected of murder followed this path, however. Bergen County, New Jersey's Michael Juskin, age 100, took the justice system out of the process on April 6, 2015; authorities said he killed his 88-year-old wife, Rosalia, with an ax while she slept, then committed suicide. And 84-year-old Pang Vang — also from Maplewood, Minnesota — actually pleaded guilty to murdering his 36-year-old son, Chue Vang, on March 24, 2014. But shortly before he could be sentenced, he died.

As for Payne, he's currently at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, and the Boulder DA is officially waiting to move forward on prosecution until doctors there complete "the process of restoring him to competency."

Don't hold your breath.

Click to visit the GoFundMe page for Ricardo Medina-Rojas and to read the Okey Payne arrest affidavit.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts