Prisoner charged in ’08 student killing

A federal prisoner has been charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 killing of a Northeastern University student in her Parker Hill Avenue home.

Rebecca Payne, a Connecticut native, was shot to death on May 20, 2008 at 170 Parker Hill Ave. Cornell Smith, 30, a former Boston resident now in a Wisconsin federal prison on unrelated drug charges, was charged last month with the killing.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office would not describe the alleged motive of the killing. But the office said in a press statement that Payne did not know Smith and “did nothing to bring about her own death.”

“She was, in every sense, an innocent victim,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley in a press statement.

“We only hope that news of [the murder charge] provides some semblance of peace for Rebecca’s loved ones, who continue to cope with their unimaginable loss,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis in a press statement.

Rebecca Payne’s parents, Nicholas and Virginia Payne of New Milford, Conn., reportedly plan to hold a commemorative march on May 20, the fourth anniversary of her killing. The march would run from her apartment to City Hall.

Another man, Michael Balba, 55, of Billerica, allegedly drove Smith and an unidentified third person to Rebecca Payne’s apartment and heard the shots that killed her. Balba, a truck driver who allegedly was a frequent buyer of crack cocaine from Smith, is facing perjury charges for allegedly lying to a grand jury about the case. He was being held on $100,000 cash bail.

Prosecutors say that Balba previously had given Smith, who he knew as “Jeff,” rides to Mission Hill. Prosecutors allege that Balba was given crack and told to wait across the street and smoke it while Smith entered Rebecca Payne’s apartment, according to the DA’s Office.

The killing of Rebecca Payne, who was 22 at the time, shook Mission Hill for its brutality and because neighbors apparently ignored the gunshots.

She was shot multiple times in the legs and chest, the Boston Police Department said at the time. Witnesses later reported hearing gunshots between 2 and 3 a.m., but there was no record of anyone calling the police. A building manager found the body later that morning after noticing the apartment door was ajar.

Rebecca Payne was a senior studying to be an athletic trainer at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

“We would like to remember Rebecca as someone always smiling, never worrying about things not worth worrying about,” said Nicholas and Virginia Payne in a statement released shortly after her killing.

Smith’s current prison sentence runs until 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He will be transferred to Boston at a time yet to be scheduled to face the murder charge. He is also charged with armed assault in a dwelling and unlawful firearm possession.

Smith was out on bail on a state drug charge at the time of the crime, according to the DA’s Office.

Balba is only facing perjury charges because he was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. However, Balba did not have immunity for false grand jury testimony, which he allegedly gave several times, according to the DA’s Office. The false testimony may have delayed charges being filed in the case, the DA’s Office said.

(from left) Nicholas and Virginia Payne display images of their murdered daughter Rebecca after Michael Balba’s arraignment at Suffolk County Superior Court downtown on April 30. (Photo Courtesy Suffolk County DA's Office)Murder defendant Cornell Smith. (Photo Courtesy Boston Police Department)Perjury defendant Michael Balba. (Photo Courtesy Suffolk County DA's Office)