Murder Within the Walls
Autopsy Reveals Clues
The investigation into the murder of America's first female correction officer murdered inside a prison was led by New York State Police Captain Francis DeFrancesco, head of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.. He was assigned to the case during the early morning hours of May 16 while the search for Payant was still in progress. "There are 1,000 suspects," he told the press, "half of the population, or at least a good percentage, has a manslaughter charge against them." In effect, Donna Payant worked in a place where most residents were convicted killers. Almost anyone in Greenhaven had the potential to commit the crime. The last minute phone call that took Payant away from her duties was also very suspicious. Could an inmate have called her to lure her to a private area of the facility in order to kill her?
"Any individual who had any information," said Capt. DeFrancesco later to the court, "or we thought could supply any information concerning Donna Payant's whereabouts, or the death, was interviewed." The process of segregating the inmates and determining the movements of each individual on May 15th had begun. It was a formidable undertaking and required a joint effort between the Greenhaven staff and the state police investigators. "Our first priority," said Capt. DeFrancesco, "was to interview anyone who was to leave the facility (parole or finished sentence) in the event they could provide any information." But in the meantime, Payant's body required more study.
Payant suffered multiple injuries and it was unclear if those wounds were the result of the attack or caused by the bulldozer sorting out the garbage in the Amenia dumpsite. It was decided that another autopsy should be performed by a different medical examiner. Dr. Michael Baden, then a Deputy Medical Examiner for the City of New York, was called in. He performed the second autopsy on Payant on May 19 and discovered several additional facts about her injuries.
The cause of death was strangulation, achieved by a Venetian blinds cord that was found tightly wrapped around the victim's neck. Payant had wounds to her skull, though not fatal, that would have rendered her unconscious. Injuries to the rectal area indicated an assault with a blunt object, possibly a wooden mop handle. Dr. Baden also concluded that the victim's nipples had been partially amputated by human bites. Although Payant had post mortem lesions that were most likely inflicted by the bulldozer, she also had several bite marks on her breast and face. Furthermore, those bite marks were of sufficient quality that Dr. Baden felt they could be matched with an assailant. It was an extremely important development since there were no fingerprints found on any of Payant's belongings or her uniform. Her ID card and badge were later discovered hidden in a closet in a distant cellblock. They, too, revealed no latent prints. Hairs were found inside her belt buckle but could not be matched to any one individual. No immediate suspects and no witnesses to the event were found.
Donna Payant, after death, would have to point to her killer.