Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Within the Walls


Donna Payant's gravesite
Donna Payant's gravesite

The killing of Donna Payant reverberated throughout the entire penal system of New York and beyond. On May 18, more than 5,000 officers from all over the United States attended her funeral in the village of Dannemora.   Governor Hugh Carey said in an official statement out of Albany that Mrs. Payant's murder "resulted from an act of unconscionable violence which will be met with a swift response."

Donna Collins was raised in Dannemora, in upstate New York. Her father, Edwin J. Collins, was a correction officer and had worked in the notorious Clinton Prison for over 28 years.  After Donna married Leo Payant, also a correction officer at Clinton, she became a homemaker and later had three children. However, the economic demands of a large family were high and, as a result, Donna was forced to take on a series of low-paying jobs to make more money. But finally, she decided to become a correction officer. She once asked her husband, "Why should I work for seven or eight thousand dollars when I can double that?" She entered the academy, located in Albany in late 1980, one of a class of 634 officers. Partly as a result of the Attica prison riot of 1971, New York was in dire need of correction officers.

Former N.Y. Governor Hugh Carey
Former N.Y. Governor
Hugh Carey (AP)

Donna was an attractive woman with light blonde hair and a pleasant, engaging smile. She was 5'5" with a very slim build. But she was confident in her job and looked forward to a career in corrections. She was commuting periodically from Greenhaven to her home in Dannemora, a lengthy trip of several hundred miles. She expressed hope that, in time, she could obtain a transfer to an institution closer to home. Although all the prisoners at Greenhaven were male, there were over 50 female officers at the facility. She made friends quickly and even socialized with other employees after hours, a fact that would later be brought up in court to her detriment.

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