Guilty of Murder UNPROTECTED:  A Series on Sacramento County's Child Protective Services


For five months Autumn Payne worked alongside Bee reporters Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton an a two-part investigative series called “Unprotected” exposing problems within the Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services.  The series showed how CPS continued to fail children within its care despite increases in funding.  


As part of the project, Payne photographed the murder trial of 3-year-old K.C. Balbuena who was killed by his mother and her roommate in 2005.  She conducted extensive research and exposed the contents of the evidence box to Bee online viewers in a special interactive graphic.  There, people can view the evidence for themselves, listen to the 911 call, read official court documents and learn more about key people of the trial. 


After the series was published in 2008 the CPS agency was subject to a grand jury review which recommended wide-sweeping changes to the agency.  Many of these changes are being implemented with the hope that they will improve safety for our most vulnerable citizens.



  • Society of Professional Journalists First Amendment Award
  • San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association 3rd Place for Multimedia

  • The National Council of Crime and Delinquency PASS Award

  • Children’s Advocacy Institute Award

  • Entered for the Pulitzer Prize by The Sacramento Bee.