Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Plea deal in '83 murder


William Payne(Photo: Courtesy SFPD)
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A San Francisco man accused in the fatal 1983 strangling of a man he'd had sex with has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after DNA test results weakening the case against him recently became available.

William Payne, 48, had been charged with first-degree murder during the course of sodomy in the death of Nikolaus Crumbley, 41, whose half-naked body was found in McLaren Park almost 30 years ago.

Following a trial last fall the jury deadlocked. The case had been proceeding toward a retrial.

Earlier this month, however, DNA test results came back matching evidence from the steering wheel of Crumbley's rental car to an unidentified person's DNA that had been found in the victim's underwear, according to Tamara Aparton, a spokeswoman for the public defender's office.

"There is clear and convincing evidence of William Payne's innocence," Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof said. "I did not want him to plead guilty to this, but I understand why he did."

Going to trial would have been "a huge gamble," and "although the gamble is way in our favor," Payne was facing life in prison without the possibility of parole if he had been convicted, Maloof said.

Payne is now expected to receive a five-year prison sentence and, with credit for time served, he will likely be released in 16 months. He entered the guilty plea March 21 in San Francisco Superior Court before Judge Jim Collins.

Police arrested Payne, who had been questioned as early as 1984 in the death, in January 2012 after matching DNA from Crumbley's body to him. Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart has said "large amounts" of Payne's sperm were found on Crumbley's body.

"Thirty years later, a homicide case has been resolved," Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said when asked about Payne's guilty plea. "This case was made possible because DNA linked the defendant to the crime. After a jury trial where the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, the district attorney's office believed that this resolution was in the best interest of the victim's family and the community."

In September, Payne testified that he and Crumbley had had sex in Crumbley's Ellis Street hotel, but that he hadn't learned of Crumbley's death until days later.

The next court date is April 11 for sentencing.



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