Mr Payne had no criminal record prior to being convicted of a felony conviction and has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years.
The Shelby County Criminal Court ordered DNA testing of crime scene evidence, which had never been tested in Pervis Payne's case. Mr. Payne, a black man with intellectual disabilities, is due to be executed on December 3, 2020. Vanessa Potkin, post-conviction director of litigation at The Innocence Project and member of Mr. Payne's legal team, which includes Milbank LLP and Nashville, Attorney Kelley Henry made the following statement:
"The court's thoughtful and reasoned decision to order DNA testing in Pervis Payne's case is fair and in line with Tennessee's clear DNA testing law. If there is DNA evidence in a death penalty case like this, it should always be examined to determine if it is irreversible Act of avoiding the execution of an innocent man. Mr. Payne should never have been put on death row for having an intellectual disability. The US Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, which is the state's pursuit of execution by Mr Payne makes it all the more appalling. We made it clear from the start that DNA testing could be completed within 60 days. DNA testing in this case is an important piece of the puzzle that was racially charged from the start. "
– Vanessa Potkin, Post-Sentencing Director, The Innocence Project and member of the Pervis Payne Legal Team, Sept. 16, 2020
Judge Paula Skahan's Order Granting DNA Review can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/yxvalz8g
The video of Judge Skahan granting DNA testing can be viewed here: https://twitter.com/AmiciaRamsey/status/1306244434997190656
Mr Payne's petition on July 22, 2020 for post-conviction DNA analysis can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/y3gbrobk
Overview of the Pervis Payne Innocence Case
Jail; Image by Emiliano Bar, via Unsplash.com.
Pervis Payne is a black man with intellectual disabilities on Tennessee's death row. Mr Payne had no criminal record prior to being convicted of a felony conviction and has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years. When he was 20, Mr. Payne was visiting his girlfriend when he heard noises in the hallway and tried to help. With Mr Payne at the scene, police focused on him and did not investigate any other suspects, including another man Mr Payne saw fleeing on his behalf from the scene and the victim's violent ex-husband, according to the Innocence Project petition. The execution of Mr Payne is scheduled for December 3, 2020.
On August 31, 2020, a powerful coalition – led by the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association and comprised of the Tennessee Black Caucus of state lawmakers, the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP, the Memphis Bar Association and 100 Black Men of Memphis, Inc. , National Council of Negresses (Chapter Memphis), Stand for Children Tennessee, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), Church of God in Christ (COGIC) National Board Member Bishop Brandon Porter, COGIC Bishop Linwood Dillard, Jr., and COGIC Bishop David Hall, Sr., Pastor of Hope Fellowship Church, Dr. Timothy Jackson, Jr., Carlos Moore, President-elect of the National Chapter of the National Bar Association, and Just City – Appoint Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich joins a request to test the DNA evidence in Mr. Payne's case. The groups urged D.A. Weirich, who defies DNA testing of evidence to correct this three decades-old injustice.
Evidence at the scene suggested the crime may have been a fury crime committed by someone close to the victim, but police focused solely on Mr Payne, who found the victims' bodies. There is nothing in Mr. Payne's background or behavior to suggest that he is capable of such a crime. There was no evidence that Mr Payne was a drug user and he had no criminal history as an adolescent or adult. (Petition on pp. 6, 12-13.)
However, during the trial, prosecutors relied on racial stereotypes and fears, arguing that Mr Payne, a black man, had used drugs and was looking for sex, and Charisse Christopher, a white woman, attacked and killed her two-year-old daughter and fatally stabbed hers four year old son. (Petition on pages 1, 12, 15.) To make up for a lack of motivation, prosecutors argued that Ms. Christopher had been sexually assaulted, an allegation inconsistent with the crime scene where she was discovered fully clothed. When Mr Payne was sitting at the defense table, the prosecution reminded the jury of Ms. Christopher's "white skin". (Petition on pages 14-15.)
Much evidence from the crime scene was never tested for DNA, including a knife, tampon, and blood-stained objects. (Petition on pp. 10-11.) DNA tests that were not available at the time of Mr Payne's trial and have not been done since could provide scientific evidence of the attacker's identity and exonerate him.
Mr Payne's petition describes three similar cases in which bystanders were convicted after discovering a crime scene and later overturned on the basis of DNA testing. (Petition on pages 41-43.)
Mr Payne was only 20 years old and mentally retarded at the time of the crime, although that fact was not recognized at the time of the trial. He has an IQ of 72 and other indications of intellectual disability. One of the main reasons the US Supreme Court banned the execution of people with intellectual disabilities in Atkins v Virginia (2002) is because of the particular risk of unlawful conviction. Mr Payne was convicted in part for being unable to help his attorneys defend himself and for giving bad testimony on his own behalf. (Petition on pages 9-10.)