But Nuffer also said the Department of Corrections could do more to safeguard due process rights of such inmates by adopting a written policy for appealing such decisions, and through regular, well-documented status reviews of inmates in "atypical" housing.
Payne has a long and troubled criminal history. He escaped from a juvenile detention center in Colorado Springs in 1990; at the time, the judge noted, there were 113 entries on his record.
He then was arrested in Utah for possession of a stolen car and placed at the Carbon County Juvenile Detention Center, where he promptly escaped after helping severely beat two officers. He stole a car with a 5-year-old child in the back seat and led officers on a high-speed chase before being recaptured.
Payne subsequently was given a 5-to-life sentence on charges related to that incident.
Between January 1991 and August 1996, he racked up at least 75 reports of disciplinary violations, Nuffer said. The most egregious: on July 6, 1994, Payne helped Troy Kell murder fellow inmate Lonnie Blackmon. Kell was sentenced to death for Blackmon's murder and remains on death row.
In September 1996, after pleading guilty to a lesser charge in that murder, Payne was transferred to a New Mexico prison. He escaped once and was returned.
In June 1999, while housed in administrative segregation there, Payne and a co-defendant stabbed a third inmate 38 times with homemade metal shanks, killing him.
Payne was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of that murder. Deemed a security risk, New Mexico officials sent Payne back to the Utah State Prison in December 2003.
There, Payne was placed in administrative segregation, where time out of his cell and access to "means of entertainment" were initially extremely restricted.
In 2005, Payne received a review score that qualified him for less restrictive housing. But Scott Carver, then executive director of corrections, exercised his option to override that score and to uphold staff recommendations that Payne remain on segregation. Payne then filed numerous protest letters and grievances, all of which were denied or ignored.
"You have clearly demonstrated over the years that [you] do not play nice with others, therefore, you are where you are," Tom Anderson, a management services administrator, wrote in one response.
Payne's initial 17-count complaint was dismissed in 2007. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and ordered the Utah court to reconsider whether Payne's due process rights had been violated.
Currently, Payne is allowed out of his cell three hours a week to exercise and talk on the phone; he may take 15-minute showers three times a week; he has access to books and magazines but not a television or radio; and he gets three barrier visits a month. He also is allowed to participate in personal study programs in his cell, corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said.
After his sentence expires in 2020, he will be sent back to New Mexico to serve out the life sentence.
Gehrke said corrections is reviewing Nuffer's ruling and "will seriously weigh any judicial recommendation aimed at bettering internal processes."
As of Monday, six Utah State Prison inmates were in administrative segregation due to executive director overrides.