Payne guilty of indecent exposure and presenting a firearm

  • Friday, February 8, 2013

Upon Payne’s arrest in a shooting incident, his houseboat was removed by TowBoat US, The Mount Pleasant Police Department and Coastal Marine Transport. See more photos of this houseboat removal online at www.MoultrieNews.com STAFF PHOTO BY SULLY WITTE


Claiming eyesight and hearing difficulties, a frail-looking Robert Payne took the stand Thursday to testify in his defense about shooting off a shotgun and exposing himself to residents of Bayview Acres. He refused to place his hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth. “The Bible says not to swear. I will not swear on the Bible,” he said.

“But I promise to state the true facts under penalty of perjury.”

A jury ultimately found former Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Robert Payne guilty of indecent exposure and of pointing or presenting a firearm, but not guilty on a charge of assault and battery.

The victim Graham Stone said that is not what he hoped for, but was relieved Payne would not be able to come near him or Bayview again for at least the next five years.

Circuit Judge Roger Young sentenced Payne, 67, to three years in prison with credit for time served and five years probation. He faced a maximum five years on the weapon charge.

He fully admitted to discharging the firearm in May of 2011. But he said he shot it straight into the air, not at anyone. He told his public defender Ashley Pennington that it was probably the biggest mistake he had ever made in his life, but that he only did it to annoy Graham Stone, a resident of Bayview Acres.

Payne who has been housed at the Al Cannon Detention center for the last two years said that he had been continuously harassed by Stone for more than two years. “I thought it was a good idea to send him an audible message that would make a lot of noise.” He testified that he chose the safest gun he could find from friend Jerry Moore’s collection.

He loaded the gun and other supplies into a golf cart, headed down a man-made causeway toward his boat.

This houseboat, considered uninhabitable by most, was stuck in the mud just off the shore of Jerry Moore’s home in Bayview. Where it sat, the boat had a 360 degree view of Shem Creek.

Three bilge pumps, running off of batteries kept the boat afloat. A hole in the hull caused water to leak in. The boat had no motors or running water or toilet facilities. But Payne called it home.

After residents of the neighborhood complained about the derelict boat anchored off their neighborhood, the then Mount Pleasant Police Chief Harry Sewell contacted Payne. He told him the boat needed to be removed.

Payne said he agreed to do just that.

But that one afternoon in May, alcohol and annoyance got the best of him, Payne testified.

The incident occurred on May 29, 2011. Police received a call about a man walking around drunk and naked in the marsh. When officers arrived that night at about 7:10 p.m. they found Payne in the marsh carrying a shotgun and wearing swim trunks, according to an incident report. While officers were there, they heard a gunshot, then saw Payne walking toward them while holding the gun with the barrel pointed in the air, the report stated. That’s when officers arrested him.

Payne is accused of shooting a gun and exposing himself in a marsh near Shem Creek on Memorial Day weekend in 2011. Payne was living on that inoperable, unregistered houseboat there.

A Charleston County jury continued deliberations Friday in the trial of Payne, a former Mount Pleasant town councilman. The trial began Monday and wrapped up Thursday afternoon, but the jury failed to reach a verdict before the judge sent them home for the evening.

Testimony by resident Graham Stone indicated Payne consistently could be seen drinking and urinating off his boat.

More often than not, he would “flip the bird” toward Stone’s home as he walked back and forth from land to his boat.

Payne testified he did not know exactly which house was Stone’s but knew the general direction.

Payne said that “flipping the bird” was a symbol of contempt and frustration.

He said he was irritated because he couldn’t get any work done on his boat due to “cops coming down there all the time, harassing and stalking” him.

“Stone was the ring leader sending them down there to pester me,” said Paybne in testimony.

“I wanted to send him a clear message. I knew it was illegal to shoot a gun in the city limits, but not that illegal,” he said.

He said he pointed the Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun through the scuttle hatch on his boat and fired once straight into the air.

Thirty minutes later he got off of his boat, walked to a small island, now part of Shem Creek Park and fired the gun again, straight up into the air.

Payne testified that as he walked back toward Moore’s house, the police were waiting on him and arrested him.

“All I wanted to do was irritate Stone. I never saw him and didn’t know if he was even home. It was pot luck in case he was home,” Payne told the jury.

Payne said that due to having prostate cancer, he urinates frequently. Not always off of the side of the boat, he said, but on this particular day he thought the view was better from the top of his boat.

So he dropped his pants, he testified, and urinated while flipping his middle finger in the direction of Stone’s home.

“If they would have left me alone, none of this would have happened,” Payne testified. “Firing that gun was a political expression. You see it in the movies all the time.”

He said he could not think of a single government agency that Stone “hasn’t whined or complained to.”

Payne testified that Stone caused him a lot of discomfort and he wanted to do the same to Stone.

He said his actions don’t seem like a good idea now, and he certainly wouldn’t do it again.

Pennington argued that Payne wasn’t trying to hurt anyone that day. He shot his gun in the air to annoy the neighbors. The conflicting testimony however, left the jury having to decide the possibility of his aim and intent to cause personal injury.

Pennington too tried to argue that urinating in public with his pants all the way down was protected under the First Amendment as an expression of disdain toward Stone.

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