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Man Sentenced to Life Imprisonment for Murdering Wife and 8-Year-Old Stepson

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The primary inquiry posed by three relatives of Quardreka and her son, Cael, centered on the motive behind the tragic events.

The fatal incident occurred in the early hours of Sept. 29, 2022, when Rickey Payne, Quardreka’s spouse and Cael’s stepfather, took the lives of both individuals. The question of “why” loomed large for the grieving family members.

While the exact reason may remain elusive, Rickey Payne will have ample time for contemplation as he faces a lifetime behind bars for the double homicide. Throughout the 45-minute hearing, Payne chose to remain silent, offering no remarks apart from responding to the judge’s inquiries.

In February, Payne, 35, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in relation to the deaths of 8-year-old Cael Thornton and his mother, Quardreka Payne. Additionally, the jury determined that he personally fired the fatal shots, warranting an additional 25 years to his sentence. However, under state law, a conviction for multiple murders mandates a life sentence, ensuring that Payne will be incarcerated indefinitely.

The sentencing hearing, presided over by Peoria County Judge Paul Gilfillan, acknowledged the profound difficulty of the circumstances, with the judge emphasizing the gravity of the situation. Despite the mandatory nature of the sentence, Judge Gilfillan meticulously examined potential mitigating factors but found none that would warrant leniency. He underscored the tragic nature of the events that transpired on that fateful day, emphasizing the absence of any redeeming qualities in Payne’s actions.

While acknowledging Rickey Payne’s expression of remorse in a detailed letter to the judge, it was also noted that he maintained his innocence. Family members of Quardreka and Cael took the stand during the hearing, conveying their impact statements verbatim. Each individual highlighted the irrevocable changes brought about by the loss of their loved ones, painting a poignant picture of grief and devastation.

The harrowing events of that day unfolded as a dispute between Quardreka and Rickey Payne escalated into a violent altercation, resulting in her tragic demise. The evidence suggested that she was shot from behind and in the head, with signs of blunt force trauma indicating a brutal assault. Prosecutors contended that Payne orchestrated a deceptive crime scene to mask the true nature of the incident before law enforcement arrived.

Following the jury’s verdict, State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos characterized the death of the young boy as an “execution,” highlighting the callousness of the act. Cael was fatally shot in the back of the head while lying in his bed, mere feet away from Payne’s twin toddler daughters, underscoring the heinous nature of the crime.