Trevor J. Payne was acting in defense of another when he shot Trevor Betzing, a jury decided Thursday.
Tears of joy flowed from the eyes of Payne and his supporters after the jury announced, at about 2:30 p.m., and following about five-and-a-half hours of deliberation, that the 21-year-old Bay City man was not guilty of all counts he faced.
Payne said he felt an “overwhelming sense of relief” when the jury foreman read the verdict.
“I’m so happy I can move on with my life,” Payne said.
Payne had been charged with assault with intent to murder and 11 other felony counts in connection with the July 4, 2019, shooting. Payne has admitted to shooting Betzing in the head at about 11:30 p.m. that Independence Day in the front yard of Betzing’s Vassar Township home.
But contradicting witness accounts of the shooting, and the events leading up to it, painted a muddled picture of what actually happened. Some witnesses said Betzing was talking to his wife in the driveway of the home, in the 400 block of Brown Road, and though both Betzing and his wife were grabbing each other by the shirt, the argument wasn’t physical.
The other witnesses testified that Betzing was assaulting his wife, with his wife saying Betzing had his hands on her throat.
Ultimately, the 9-woman, 3-man jury sided with the story told by the most witnesses – that Payne shot Betzing while Betzing was physically assaulting his wife and that the shooting was justified because it was in defense of another.
Some subdued cheers, and a lot of tears could be seen and heard from Payne’s supporters when the verdict was announced.
“It’s like hearing the best news you’ve ever heard in your entire life” said Payne’s mother, Ann Marie Payne. “My poor husband (Jamie Payne), I think I broke his hand because I just could not hold on to it any tighter. The only thing I could think is, ‘I want to get to my son.’ When we hugged, it was like holding him when he was first born. I was pushing everybody out of the way saying ‘I want my son.’”
The 18 months leading up to the trial had been difficult, and the week of the trial was awful, Ann Marie Payne said.
“We’ve been waiting for this day to come, and waiting and waiting. And then it was here, and we didn’t want it to be here,” she said. “I have two best friends and I texted them (Wednesday) night and said, ‘I need my girls.’ And they were (at the Payne’s home) in about 20 minutes.”
Trevor Payne had been free on bond for the nearly 18 months since the shooting occurred. The jury trial began Feb. 17 with jury selection. Opening statements and witness testimony began Feb. 18. It was held at the Caro Knights of Columbus, 903 Ryan Road in Indianfields Township, and was presided over by retired Sanilac County Judge Donald Teeple.
Betzing took the stand Dec. 18 and explained the injuries he received in the shooting. Betzing said his ear was blown off, so he can’t hear on his right side. He also said he has permanent nerve damage and still can’t feel the right side of his face and neck. He faces future surgeries, has frequent migraines and his equilibrium is permanently damaged. Payne shot Betzing with a 20-gauge shotgun pistol, which is similar to a sawed-off shotgun.
Trevor Payne’s defense attorney, Bay City-based Matthew Reyes, and Tuscola County assistant prosecutor Eric Hinojosa – who handled the case for the state along with chief assistant prosecutor Eric Wanink – gave closing arguments Wednesday afternoon. The jury began deliberation Thursday morning. Reyes was assisted by attorney Brooke Bauer.
“The question, ladies and gentlemen, and this entire case comes down to one real question, and that question is, ‘What was in Trevor Payne’s mind on July 4, 2019,'” Reyes said to the jury during his closing argument. “And that is for you to determine. And once you determine what was in his mind, was (the shooting) justified based on how things appeared to him?”
There were eight people who witnessed the shooting – Betzing, his mother and father, his wife, two of Betzing’s stepdaughters (ages 17 and 19) and two male companions (Payne and another man, both age 20) of the stepdaughters. Betzing and his parents have testified that the shooting was unprovoked, and that Betzing and his wife were arguing when Payne pulled the trigger. The remaining witnesses have said Betzing was actively assaulting his wife when Betzing was shot.
“The question is, ‘Is what Mr. Payne did reasonable based on all the circumstances?’” Reyes asked during closing arguments. “Was it reasonable to do what he did when this drunken, violent, steroid-raging, angry beast comes barreling out of the house? Is it reasonable to believe that this, coming down the driveway, was going to cause a serious injury? Is this something that is capable of causing serious injury with his bare hands?”
According to testimony, Betzing’s blood-alcohol level was .237 percent when he was taken to the hospital after the shooting. A person is considered legally drunk when their blood-alcohol level reaches .08 percent.
In order to secure conviction, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Betzing’s wife was not in danger when Payne shot Betzing.
Hinojosa opened his closing argument by telling the jury that the evidence presented during the four days of testimony proved all elements needed for conviction of the crimes. He said Payne had to believe Betzing’s wife was in danger of being killed, seriously injured or sexually assaulted in order to apply potentially lethal force. He told the jury the evidence showed that wasn’t the case.
Hinojosa said that Payne undeniably intended to kill Betzing.
“You don’t shoot somebody in the head from 10 feet away if you’re not trying to kill them,” Hinojosa said. “The defendant very nearly did kill Trevor Betzing.”
Hinojosa also objected to the defense’s portrayal of Betzing, adding that it wasn’t Betzing who was on trial.
“(Reyes) called (Betzing) a monster from the opening statement, and did everything he could to convince you he was a bad person,” Hinojosa said “That’s the narrative he wants you to believe, but that isn’t what the evidence shows. Is he a monster because he was drunk at his own house when he didn’t have to drive on the Fourth of July? Is he a monster because he was rude to some uninvited guests? Is he a monster because he’s worked out in the past?
“Mr. Reyes wants you to think of him as a roided-out monster when (Betzing’s wife) testified he stopped taking steroids a number of months before.”
Hinojosa told the jury that if Trevor Payne had just left the scene, the shooting could have been avoided.
The defendant took issue with the statement.
“I don’t know how somebody can expect me to make a decision like that,” Trevor Payne said. “Those are my friends and family, those are people I love, and you’re telling me I was wrong staying and protecting them?”
Trevor Payne was charged with 12 felonies in connection with the shooting – assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder or by strangulation, carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and six counts of possessing a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony.
Four of the charges – two of the assault with a dangerous weapon counts and two of the felony firearms counts – were imposed by the prosecutor’s office at the preliminary exam after Betzing’s father testified Payne had pointed the gun at Betzing’s mother and father before shooting Betzing.
Had he been found guilty, the most serious charge – assault with intent to murder – carried a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.
“As with all jury verdicts, the Office of the Tuscola County Prosecuting Attorney respects the decision that was returned and wishes to thank all the jurors for their service and the time and attention they gave to the evidence that was presented,” Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene said in a statement released after the verdict was announced. “The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney also wishes to recognize the countless hours expended by law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of this case.
“Our thoughts remain with the now 39-year-old shooting victim in this matter who is a veteran of the United States Navy. He was shot in the back of the head at close range with a shotgun and suffered the complete loss of an ear and hearing. He remains beset with a number of lingering side effects.”
Trevor Betzing and his now-ex-wife had known each other since grade school. They had been together for about 10 years and married for four. Betzing’s ex-wife has four children – three daughters and one son – from a previous marriage. Three of the children lived with the couple at the Brown Road home.
Betzing, 38 at the time of the shooting, is a Navy veteran. He was an active bodybuilder, although both Betzing and his wife testified it had been months since he had gone to the gym on a regular basis. Betzing admitted to using steroids in the past.
The family of Betzing’s wife owns a Bay City online auction business. Both Payne and the other male at the Betzing’s home at the time of the shooting worked for Betzing’s wife. Both of Betzing’s stepdaughters who were at the home that night worked at the business from time to time.
Trevor Payne, when he was interviewed immediately following the shooting, said that he had heard at work that Betzing was abusive.
Betzing’s wife testified that Betzing had never struck her before. But Betzing was previously charged with interfering with electronic communications for breaking his ex-wife’s phone. The incident occurred after Betzing discovered she was having an affair, he testified.
Betzing filed for divorce weeks after the shooting.
July 4, 2019
The Betzings planned on hosting a Fourth of July gathering for family and coworkers, but plans changed and the gathering was moved to the uncle of Betzing’s wife. Only Betzing was at the home when his parents arrived in the early afternoon.
Betzing and his parents lounged by the pool and had a cookout. Betzing drinks a fifth of whiskey over the course of the day.
At about 6:30 p.m., Betzing’s wife arrives at the home. She eats, and consumes alcohol.
At about 10 p.m., Betzing’s two stepdaughters and the two males arrive at the house. They were previously at the other holiday gathering.
Payne had not been drinking. He was 20 and his 21st birthday (July 5, 2019) was a couple of hours of away.
Shortly after their arrival, Betzing’s wife gives the males a tour of the home. Betzing testified this upset him, because he and his wife both work the next morning, and he believed the males would try to stay the night.
Around 11 p.m., Payne and the oldest stepdaughter are downstairs, while Betzing’s wife, second-oldest daughter, and the other male are smoking in the home’s “mud room.” Betzing enters the mud room.
At this point in the evening, the account of events splits into two different versions. What is known for sure is there was an incident involving Betzing and the male in the mud room, and that a physical altercation between Betzing and his wife ensued. Betzing testified Feb. 18 that his wife punched him in the face “eight to 10 times,” and that he shoved her to the ground. The stepdaughter who was in the mud room also punched him in the face several times, before Betzing’s father separated them, Betzing said.
Betzing’s wife testified Monday that Betzing sometimes goes into a trance while drinking, and that four slaps to his face sometimes brings him out of it. But the slaps didn’t on this night. She said she did not punch Betzing with a closed fist.
At that point, the four young people and Betzing’s wife exited the home, but did not leave the property. Betzing went outside because he didn’t want his wife to leave “and go party” with the young people, he testified.
Betzing and his father testified that the group was in the front yard making noise for about 20-30 minutes. Betzing’s wife testified the group was outside for only a moment or two before Betzing exited the house to confront his wife.
Shortly after, Payne grabbed the shotgun from the trunk of his car and shot Betzing.
Betzing said he approached his wife and asked her to speak to him in private. Betzing and his father testified that Betzing and his wife were arguing but that – beyond each grabbing the other’s shirt – the confrontation was not physical.
The four young people, and Betzing’s wife, testified that the confrontation was physical, with Betzing being the aggressor.
Some testimony described Payne as saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry (Betzing’s wife), I can’t let him hurt you.” He then pulled the trigger and the shot struck Betzing in the right side of the head. The jury was shown graphic photos of Betzing’s injuries during the trial.
Betzing fell to the ground. But he got up and walked back into his house. He was tended to by his parents and wife. Betzing’s wife and father testified that Betzing was angry and aggressive and wanted to know who caused the injury.
Betzing’s oldest stepdaughter was on the phone with Tuscola County Central Dispatch when the shooting occurred. She had dialed 911 about five minutes prior. Seconds after the shooting, Payne got on the line and admitted to shooting Betzing. A short time later, and while Payne is still speaking to central dispatch, Betzing’s wife calls 911 to check on the status of an ambulance.
Betzing is taken to Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, and then transported to University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. He is placed in a medically-induced coma for multiple days and is released from the hospital about a week after the incident.
At the scene, Payne is in the backyard of a neighbor when Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrive. He is taken into custody without incident. He is transported to the sheriff’s office where he is interviewed for between two and three hours.
Shortly after the shooting, Payne’s family created a Facebook page in support of the defendant. Called “Trevor’s Fight!” The page acted not only as a way for the community to support Payne, but to spread awareness of domestic violence.
“I don’t wish any person or any parent to ever have to go through what we’ve endured,” said Jamie Payne. “We’ve raised Trevor to stand up for the little guy, be kind and help others. I never thought it would lead to him having to take an aggressor down.”
The page has more than 2,400 followers, many of whom do not know the Payne family.
“It’s thousands of people, not just from Michigan but all over the country,” Jamie Payne said. “The outpouring from people who felt strongly about domestic violence, it’s changed our lives. To have people you don’t even know pray for you, it’s overwhelming. It’s amazing.”
When Trevor Payne’s supporters arrived at court Thursday to hear the jury’s verdict, most were wearing a black T-shirt with the words “WeStandWithTrev” embroidered on them.
“I’d like to thank all my supporters,” Trevor Payne said. “I’d like to thank my attorneys – Brooke and Matthew – and I’d also like to keep people aware of these situations and bring awareness to domestic abuse.”
Trevor Payne has a twin brother – Brenden Payne – who lives in California. He said he plans to move west.
“My brother in in the United States Navy, I’m going out there and starting fresh,” Trevor Payne said. “I’m getting away from this disaster.”