An Austin man who wanted to retrieve a stolen bracelet confronted a group of people he believed was behind the theft and ended up shooting one of them, resulting in his arrest on a murder charge.
But Zachary Payne testified at his trial that he meant no trouble when he visited the Park Plaza apartments and that he pulled out his gun and began shooting only after his life was threatened.
A Travis County jury will decide if Alfred Matthews’ July 2016 death was justified, or if Payne will spend up to life in prison for murder. A verdict was not reached as of press time Friday. Payne also faces two charges of aggravated assault, including one with a deadly weapon.
The theft that led to Matthews’ slaying happened two days before the shooting, on Payne’s 21st birthday. He said he fell asleep in his ex-girlfriend’s car after a party and woke up on East Riverside drive without $140, a necklace and the bracelet.
Payne testified that he wasn’t too concerned about the money or the necklace, but that he wanted the bracelet back because it was a gift from his aunt. He had reported the theft to Austin police and had incessantly called the phone of his ex-girlfriend, Marione McCain, with some 200 calls and 80 text messages because he believed she had taken the items. Payne was eventually told he could have the bracelet back, but that he’d have to get it at the North Austin apartments where the shooting later occurred.
Payne said he was scared when he arrived at the apartments after receiving three threatening phone calls the night before from two unidentified men.
He got the bracelet back, but the fatal confrontation started after that.
A man who was at the apartment, Breaun Justice, testified that he was upset and wanted to fight Payne because Payne had gone to Justice’s grandmother’s house the day before looking for the bracelet. Justice said he felt his family had been disrespected and removed his shirt to fight.
Payne told the jury he believed Matthews and Justice were the men who threatened him over the phone, and that he thought he was going to be shot himself when Matthews encouraged Justice to “pop” him.
Payne testified that he pulled the gun because Justice reached into his pocket and started to pull out something that resembled a weapon. No evidence came out in trial that Justice had a gun or any other weapon.
Payne fired and struck Matthews twice, first in the arm and then in the back. He missed Justice and McCain, but was charged with aggravated assault for the attempted shooting.
In Friday’s closing arguments, prosecutors disputed the self-defense theory, pointing out that Matthews was shot in the back as evidence he was retreating and not posing a threat to Payne.
“He knows Alfred Matthews never threatened him,” prosecutor Efrain De La Fuente said. “He was moving. He got shot in the back.”
De La Fuente said Payne was looking for a confrontation when he went after the bracelet — “He was angry when he showed up.”
Payne’s lawyer, Ariel Payan, offered a different explanation, saying the bullet entered Matthews’ back only because he was turning to run after he was shot in the arm.
Payne fled after the shooting but was arrested later.