| Crime |

Why Okey Payne, 95, Is Unlikely to Stand Trial for Alleged Murder

After the shooting at Legacy Assisted Living in Lafayette.
After the shooting at Legacy Assisted Living in Lafayette.
KKTV screen capture
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Early on February 3, police in Lafayette arrested 95-year-old Okey Payne on suspicion of shooting and killing an employee at the assisted-living facility where he's a resident.

Payne is the oldest person in Colorado to be busted for homicide in recent memory, as well as one of the oldest in the country to face such accusations in at least a decade. But previous cases suggest that Payne is unlikely to go to trial, much less be convicted and serve time for the act.

Lafayette is not exactly the epicenter of serious crime in Colorado. Indeed, the post on the Lafayette Police Department Facebook page prior to the one pertaining to Payne involved a February 1 attempt to find the owners of a lost dog. But the February 3 release had an entirely different tone:

"At 7:15 this morning, officers were dispatched to 225 Waneka Pkwy, Legacy Assisted Living, on a report of a shooting," the item states. "Upon arrival, officers located a male shot. A suspect (resident of Legacy Assisted Living) was located within his room and taken into custody. The suspect is identified as a 95-year-old white male. The victim, an employee of Legacy Assisted Living, was transported to the hospital," where he later died. The name of the forty-something man, who is said to have been shot in the head by a small handgun, has not been made public at this writing.

Later on February 3, Legacy Assisted Living issued this statement: "We are devastated by the incident that took place at our community this morning. In consideration of privacy laws and the integrity of the investigation process, we cannot share specifics about those involved. Our thoughts and prayers are with our employee and their family, as well as our residents and staff who are understandably shaken by what took place. Our chief concerns at this time are providing comfort and care to all that have been impacted. As it is an active investigation, we will not be commenting further on this matter."

There is no central repository of information about the oldest people arrested for murder in the United States. But we found multiple reports regarding elderly individuals taken into custody for such offenses. One of the earliest involved Massachusetts's Laura Lundquist, who 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. Rather than jail, 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 officially 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.

There are no recent cases of Coloradans in their nineties being charged with murder, but these examples from across the country suggest that the odds that Payne will ever do time are extremely small.

Update: The Lafayette Police Department sent out a notice changing the name of the spelling of the suspect from Okie to Okey Payne. This story has been updated to reflect that.

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