Questions remain in deaths of Payne children

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October 6, 2006

Today, Lottie Payne spent her first full day of her five year sentence behind bars.

She was found guilty of child cruelty, a jury saying she was ultimately responsible for her children's deaths.

But in the small community of Warrenton, there are still questions about how a two- and three-year-old got out of the house, down the road, and through the woods to the pond where they drowned.

News 12's Diane Cho went to Warren County to retrace their steps.

Even with a guilty verdict in the Lottie Payne trial, questions still remain as to how the children wandered into the nearby retention pond almost 1200 feet away.

It's the first time Warren County sheriff Joe Peebles has walked this path since the two beloved toddlers were reported missing.

"The path is overgrown now," Sheriff Peebles told us. "Back then it was in the winter and the path was clear."

Each step brought back painful memories of the intense two-day search that ended with the worst.

"Even grown men cried when they were found, because they were two little angels," Sheriff Peebles said.

He led us down the tumultuous path riddled with sticks and debris in the direction officials believe 3-year-old Jonah and 2-year-old Nicole most likely took.

But parents Dennis and Lottie testified little Jonah had difficulty walking and couldn't get very far before he stumbled over his own feet...raising the question of how the two toddlers ever made it 1200 feet down the beaten path.

"That's the $64,000 question," Sheriff Peebles said. "We don't know if someone threw them in the pond. There's no evidence to suggest that they did or didn't."

But the path to the gate of the retention pond closest to where the toddler's bodies were discovered wasn't a straight shot ahead.

"Even off this path, there's other paths that go left and right. There's no rhyme or reason."

Even though the parents say they took the children through this same route once before, the children still veered off the beaten path.

"After you go around this way, you have to turn sharply left to get to the gate."

With no signs of cuts or scratches to show little Jonah may have stumbled along and no signs of bruising to show the children were forcibly abducted, the questions remain.

Did someone take the children?

Did their parents show them the way?

Or did the toddlers just step into their own fate?

They're questions that may never be answered.

The holes in the gate have been corrected since the toddler's deaths, and the locks at the entrance have been tightened so another child isn't able to slip through.