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CLERGYMAN FOUND GUILTY OF ASSAULT, ACQUITTED OF RAPE

A clergyman was acquitted of rape and other charges Tuesday but convicted of two counts of assault in an alleged knifepoint attack on a parishioner.

The Rev. Michael O. Payton, 48, of the now-defunct Faith Temple of God and Christ on Fillmore Avenue, faces a prison term of two years when he is sentenced March 6 before Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka.

A jury reached its verdict after about eight hours of deliberations. The panel found Payton guilty of two counts of third-degree assault but innocent of first-degree rape, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of first-degree sodomy and two counts of first-degree burglary.

The 31-year-old woman parishioner testified that Payton, who is currently under suspension with pay as a Buffalo Public School teacher's aide, used a crowbar to get into her house and raped her at knifepoint about 11:30 p.m. Dec. 29, 1998. On the witness stand Monday, Payton insisted they had consensual sex that day.

Payton was indicted in January and spent two days in jail until he was released on $25,000 bail after the incident.

Payton admitted the bloodstained steak knife police found in the victim's home after he left was his but he said he had lent the knife to the woman, and he denied causing the neck and thigh slashes police found on her.

The victim told the jury she had fled into her bathroom, locked the door and used her portable phone to call 911 while Payton was still in her house. He was arrested by police at his home about two hours later.

The woman told the jury that after Payton threw her on her bed, he held the steak knife to her throat and said, "Stop moving or I'll kill you."

The woman identified Payton as her attacker when police brought him to her house after she reported the incident.

In October 1990, Payton was arrested after allegedly whipping a 14-year-old nephew with an electrical cord as punishment for fighting, but court officials said they have no immediate records of what happened to him in that case and noted he retained his school job that year.

In closing arguments, Leigh E. Anderson, Payton's lawyer, told the jury the woman "set up" Payton because she was jealous that he had become engaged to another woman.

Prosecutor Lisa Bloch Rodwin told the jury that the broken door lock police found on the woman's front door shortly after the incident and the bloodstained knife and the tire iron they found on her living room floor corroborated her claims of being sexually assaulted.

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