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Rebecca Payne: Killer thought Northeastern student was someone else, says DA

The man accused of killing a Northeastern student in her Mission Hill apartment pleaded not guilty today.

The parents of a Northeastern student killed in her own Mission Hill apartment finally got to see today the man accused of shooting their daughter.

Cornell Smith, 30, is accused of gunning down Rebecca Payne in her Mission Hill apartment in 2008 in a case of mistaken identity. He pleaded not guilty.

Payne's parents, Nicholas and Virginia, watched Smith walk in and out of the Suffolk Superior courtroom for his arraignment this morning.

After the hearing they both spoke to reporters with tears in their eyes.

"He was strolling in there like he was standing in line for something," said Nicholas Payne. "He showed no remorse ... like it was just another day.

"We know our daughter spent her last moments looking at him and having no clue what this idiot was doing in her apartment," he said.

Virginia Payne said it was "heart-wrenching" to see the man who killed their daughter.

"Looking at that face, that's the reason she's not here, because of him," she said.

Prosecutors said Smith, who is already in jail for an unrelated drug charge, became involved in a dispute and a fight over drugs with someone before the shooting.

He "developed a disagreement with somebody who looked like, at least from quite a distance, Ms. Payne and who lived in the same building," said Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum.

Payne had returned from work at Legal Sea Foods the night of her murder. At about 3:30 a.m., Smith climbed the outdoor porch to her apartment, broke in and shot her multiple times, prosecutors said.

The four-year investigation was hindered in part because of another man, prosecutors said.

Michael Balba, 55, of Billerica, was allegedly seeking to fuel his cocaine addiction when he drove Smith to Payne's apartment. The murder occurred while Balba was getting high, prosecutors said.

Balba allegedly lied to investigators and a grand jury during the inquiry despite having immunity.

He pleaded not guilty earlier this year to four counts of perjury.

 
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