Lenora Payne could have talked to the court until she was blue in the face, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The woman who killed her son is insane, you see. The court ruled her so. And that means no amount of talking by a murder victim’s mom could have changed the outcome of the case.
Still, Lenora Payne would like you to know about her son, the woman who killed him and the anguish of not being able to speak in court about what that woman did. The topic is timely because Arizona officials are moving toward the idea that victims’ families should be heard in court during the sentencing phase of death penalty trials.
Again, that would be a moot point in this case. Arizona does not execute psychotic killers, it hospitalizes them. But Payne, 80, wants to speak nonetheless, and right now this column is her only outlet.
Her son’s name was Brian Hansen. He was a leather-worker, a saddle maker who based his business in the Scottsdale home he shared with his mom. He was 43 when he died on Aug. 30, 1996, in a ratty trailer park on East Van Buren Street in Phoenix.
He had gone there to care for an old friend, Gayle Dillenback, who is now 55. There had been some romantic interest in prior years, but by that summer Brian was just trying to help keep her alive.
Earlier that year, court documents show, Dillenback had attempted suicide by shooting herself in the head. “Brian went down to see her every day” at the hospital, his mother said. And after she got out, he continued visiting her.
It was during one of those visits that Dillenback walked to a nearby Circle K and handed the clerk a note that said, “Call 911. Report murder at 3302 E. Van Buren. . . . Thanks, Gayle.”
The cops found Hansen tied up and dead of multiple gunshots in a rear bedroom of Dillenback’s trailer. She offered no explanation. “Brian was just trying to be kind to someone who needed his help and she took his life,” Payne said.
Dillenback was judged guilty but insane and sentenced to the Arizona State Hospital. Her sentence expires July 30, 2012. Court records show numerous proceedings of various kinds since that sentence was handed down — proceedings during which Payne and her two surviving children have only been silent spectators.
“He was a very special person,” Payne said of Brian. “I’ve already lost two other children (both to illness) and my husband. This was the final touch.”
Payne is haunted by the chance that Dillenback could be let out of the hospital. The recent release of Barbara Downey of Apache Junction, who killed her 7-year-old in a fit of religious delusion, sent chills down her spine.
“Here I am seeing all these things happening and the family is not even allowed to speak in court,” Payne said. “We wanted the judge to know how devastating this has been to our family.”
She calls her family’s trip through the court system “a terrible experience.”
And she doesn’t buy the idea that insanity alone should let someone off the hook.
“Gayle had a cruel streak,” Payne said. “She thanked us by taking my son’s life.”