VICTORIA -- The preliminary inquiry into the 2019 murder of Metchosin resident Martin Payne began at the Western Communities Courthouse on Monday.

James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage are charged with first degree murder in Payne’s death. Payne’s body was found in his home on July 12, 2019, just days after Busch and Armitage had escaped from nearby William Head Prison.

Busch and Armitage were reported to have escaped from the federal minimum security facility in the early morning hours of July 8, 2019. A massive manhunt for the fugitives was conducted by Westshore RCMP and other Vancouver Island police agencies.

The two escapees were arrested by Victoria Police without incident after being spotted on the Esquimalt waterfront by an off-duty RCMP member on the evening of July 9, 2019.

Days later, Payne’s red Ford F-150 pick-up was located abandoned on an Oak Bay street.

Police were sent to Payne’s Metchosin home on July 12, 2019, when it was reported he had not been to work for a number of days. When officers arrived, they found the 60-year-old deceased and in the days that followed police revealed he was the victim of a homicide.

Armitage and Busch were charged with first degree for Payne’s death in June 2020. The charges came after an 11-month investigation led by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit. The investigative unit is made up of members from six Vancouver Island police agencies.

Both Busch and Armitage were violent offenders before they were alleged to have killed Payne. Busch was serving a life sentence for second degree murder and Armitage, who had previously escaped from custody on multiple occasions, was serving a sentence for aggravated assault and robbery.

Due to a publication ban, evidence presented at the preliminary inquiry can not be reported. The inquiry is set to be heard at the Western Communities Courthouse in Colwood until May 14, with additional dates scheduled in June.

The trial date for Armitage and Busch will be set sometime later in 2021.