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Cornell Smith murdered student Rebecca Payne in case of mistaken identity: ID investigates

Mugshot of Cornell Smith
Cornell Smith murdered Rebecca Payne in a case of mistaken identity. Pic credit: Suffolk County DA Office

ID is examining a murderous case of mistaken identity in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2008, when Cornell Smith barged into Rebecca Payne’s apartment and gunned down the young student.

On May 16, 2008, Rebecca was home alone and sleeping on the couch in the living room of her apartment when Smith broke in. From the doorway, he fired into her body five times. She was hit twice in the legs, twice in the torso, and once in the chin.

Rebecca tried to escape by crawling into her bedroom, but she died of her injuries at the scene. Neighbors heard her screams and the gunshots, but nobody dialed 911. In the meantime, Smith had fled the scene. Her body was discovered three hours later when a neighbor noticed her apartment door was open.

The police were initially baffled as to why anyone would want to kill this Northeastern University student who had high hopes of becoming an orthopedic doctor.

However, investigators subsequently learned that it was a case of mistaken identity. A few months before the murder, Smith had been arrested on drug charges. He believed he had been informed on by a woman who lived in the same building as Rebecca, and he decided to get revenge.

Rebecca Payne resembled Cornell Smith’s intended victim

Rebecca lived two floors above this woman and had a passing resemblance to her, which caused Smith to target the student accidentally.

Smith was incarcerated on different charges later that year, and he finally incriminated himself in Rebecca’s murder by referring to the shooting in a recorded telephone call. In 2012, he was eventually indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

The case against Smith was further bolstered when a prosecutor discovered letters written by him, where he appeared to admit to the shooting.

In 2015, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and changed his plea to guilty for illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to between 18 and 20 years.

At Smith’s trial, Rebecca’s father, Nicholas Payne, offered the killer a route to forgiveness. He suggested that Smith writes to every congress member and senator he could find and ask them to change the gun laws, to make it impossible for men like him to attain firearms. Only then, could Payne forgive him.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more crimes profiled on ID.

Teenager Kevin Davis asked his mother, Kimberly Hill, for permission to kill himself. When she tried to talk him out of it, he bashed her head in with a hammer and had sex with the corpse. When questioned by police, he said, “I’m just a terrible, disgusting person.”

In January 2014, Donna Scrivo drugged and strangled her 32-year-old son Ramsay Scrivo at their home in Michigan. She then dismembered his remains in the bathtub and dumped the body parts along a frozen highway.

What Happened In Apartment 23 airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

2 thoughts on “Cornell Smith murdered student Rebecca Payne in case of mistaken identity: ID investigates”

  1. ID channel is reality TV, which means that they have to run to a formula of what the viewers would expect. That said they did not do a bad job, but several significant but maybe credulity stretching things were left out. One is that Cornell Smith smashed his first defence lawyer on the head in open court. The second defence lawyer brought the case to within six weeks of trial before he contracted a case of Lyme disease, so severe that he was unable to continue the practice of law. This was significant because the case depended on the testimony of an accomplice. This accomplice himself had been blinded and paralyzed in another shootout two weeks later. This did not stop him selling drugs however and he was arrested for this and persuaded to testify for the state, since perhaps prison was unusually unpleasant in his condition. However his health was deteriorating and before a third defence attorney could finish preparing for trial the accomplice died. The case at that point fell apart and the prosecutor attempted to try him for smashing his first lawyer on the head, to at least get him some time, but the jury acquitted him on the grounds that he did not smash down hard enough with his manacled hands to be considered assault with a deadly weapon with which he had been charged. While this was going on a lawyer researching his ongoing Federal drugs case noticed that Cornell Smith had written a letter several months previously to the federal judge, a rambling six page missive, a litany of all the wrongs done him. However it was posted on the federal court web site for all to see, but no one had actually read it, for had they done so they would have found half way down page 4 a confession of the murder of Rebecca Payne. However because of all the other gobbledegook that the letter contained, it was felt that a jury might be induced not to believe it, so a deal was done whereby he would plead guilty to the lesser charge

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