BOSTON, June 18, 2012—A former Roxbury man now serving a federal prison sentence was ordered held without bail today at his arraignment for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Rebecca Payne, a Northeastern University student believed to have been mistaken for someone else, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
After four years of investigation, CORNELL SMITH (D.O.B. 12/19/81) was indicted April 27 for first-degree murder, armed assault in a dwelling, and unlawful possession of a firearm, all in connection with the May 20, 2008, slaying. He was formally charged with those offenses this morning in Suffolk Superior Court, where Clerk Magistrate Gary D. Wilson granted prosecutors’ requests and ordered him held without bail.
Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum, who was assigned the case the day Payne’s body was found, told the court that Payne had finished her shift at a Boston restaurant, returned to her second-floor Parker Hill Avenue apartment and “settled in” sometime after midnight.
“She had no problems, no disagreements, no feuds with anyone that we know of,” Polumbaum said.
During the same time period, Polumbaum continued, Smith was involved in the sale of crack cocaine in and around downtown Boston. In the context of that activity Smith became embroiled in a conflict with a young woman “who looked like Ms. Payne and lived in the same building.”
“On the night in question, Mr. Smith enlisted a frequent drug customer to drive him to Parker Hill Avenue,” Polumbaum said. “Some time close to 3:30 a.m., Mr. Smith entered the apartment from the balcony, which was accessible to anyone in reasonably good shape.”
Smith allegedly fired multiple shots at Payne, killing her. The gunfire and the victim’s scream were heard by numerous people in and around the building. None called 911. Prosecutors say Smith left the apartment and was driven from the scene by his customer.
Conley’s office has identified the customer as MICHAEL BALBA (D.O.B. 3/1/57) of Billerica. Balba has been indicted for perjury, charged with repeatedly lying under oath during the four-year grand jury investigation into Payne’s homicide. He is currently held on $100,000 cash bail.
Smith is currently serving a 12½-year prison sentence for a 2010 drug conviction in US District Court. Under an agreement between Conley’s office and federal prison authorities, Smith will remain held without bail in Massachusetts pending his trial for Payne’s murder.
Kara Hayes is the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. Smith is represented by attorney Jeffrey Karp. Both he and Balba will return to court on July 10.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Nicholas and Virginia Payne speak with reporters after their daughter’s alleged killer was ordered held without bail at his arraignment today in Suffolk Superior Court. Rebecca Payne, a 22-year-old student at Boston’s Northeastern University, was shot dead in her Mission Hill apartment in the early morning hours of May 20, 2008; four years later, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced indictments charging a convicted drug dealer with murdering her in a case of mistaken identity and a customer of that man with lying to the Suffolk County Grand Jury during the course of the investigation.