Murder Within the Walls
Greenhaven prison is located in central Dutchess County in upstate New York. The walls that surround the institution are massive, over 30 feet high and twenty feet thick in some places. Stern-faced guards armed with machine guns are perched inside the turrets that circle the complex. In May 1981, Greenhaven housed nearly 1,700 inmates, of which approximately 1,000 were convicted of murder related charges. Some of the very worst criminals in the state were held at Greenhaven. This was a maximum-security facility and the prison guards were very aware of the dangers of their job. Any type of rebellion by the inmates would surely end in bloodshed because most prisoners were accustomed to violence and had nothing to lose. It was up to the 540 correction officers to watch over and control a potentially hostile inmate population. The bloody 1971 Attica riot, during which dozens of inmates and guards were killed, was still fresh on the minds of everyone who worked in a penal institution in New York.
Correction Officer Donna Payant, 31, was scheduled to work the 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. shift on May 15. She was a recent transfer out of upstate Clinton Prison and had worked at Greenhaven for only one month. Officer Payant punched her time card at 12:08 p.m. and then proceeded to line-up. After the morning roll call, which was held at 12:45 p.m., Payant strolled over to the officers' mess hall where she purchased a Coke. Her assigned detail that afternoon was to patrol the area of the prison yard known as A/B. At approximately 12:55 p.m., Payant was walking through one of the prison corridors with C.O. Claude King and C.O. Barbara Hinson. A nearby phone rang and was picked up by Hinson. She told Payant that the call was for her as Hinson handed her the phone receiver. Later, C. O. King would say of Donna Payant that she "was crouched over like she was trying to hear."
"Hello?" Payant said. She appeared to listen to the caller intently. In a few seconds, she replied.
"Who? What? Yes. Okay," she said and hung up. Payant then told Officer King that there was some sort of a foul-up and she needed to get it straightened out. She would return in a few minutes, she said, and walked off in the direction of the chaplain's office, located off the hospital corridor in back of one of the mess halls.
Several minutes later, an inmate named Teddy Goodman lingered in a small alcove opposite the chaplain's office. Goodman had been at Greenhaven since 1977 when he was convicted of murdering his business partner in the Bronx. He watched as Payant approached the office. "She had like strawberry blonde hair," he said months later. She was carrying a large cup of soda and her uniform jacket folded over her arm.
Accompanying her was another inmate, a tall black man with striking blue eyes whose name Goodman did not know. A few weeks before, Goodman watched this same man place a large metal drum outside the chapel door. The man cleaned out the metal container and then applied a fresh coat of paint. He left the drum by the door to be used as a trash collector. Since then, Goodman had seen the man empty the drum several times as part of his normal chores. When Payant and the inmate reached the end of the corridor, the black man held the door open for her and they walked inside without incident. Goodman loitered around the area for a while longer, smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze with other prisoners. When he returned to the chapel entrance later at about 2:45 p.m. to dump some trash, Goodman noticed that the trash container was gone.
At 6:00 p.m., a roll call was held in the turnout room for new assignments and the change of shift for some correction officers. Donna Payant was due to report for her next assignment along with other guards who were scheduled to go off duty.
She never showed up.