Attorneys for Pervis Payne File Petition to Present His Intellectual Disability Claim in Court

05.12.21 By Innocence Staff

Pervis Payne in Riverbend Maximum Security institution in Tennessee. (Image: Courtesy of PervisPayne.Org)

Pervis Payne in Riverbend Maximum Security institution in Tennessee. (Image: Courtesy of PervisPayne.Org)

Faith, Civil Rights, Legal & Legislative Leaders Call on D.A. Weirich to Agree that Mr. Payne is a Person with Intellectual Disability

(Memphis, Tennessee, May 12, 2021) Following Governor Lee’s signing of overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to patch a hole in Tennessee law that prevented people with intellectual disability from presenting the claim that their execution was barred by the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions, attorneys for Pervis Payne today filed a petition under the new procedure in Shelby County Criminal Court.

The petition states that Mr. Payne, as a person with an undisputed diagnosis of intellectual disability, is categorically barred from execution. The State has never denied or challenged that Mr. Payne is a person with intellectual disability and neurocognitive impairment. As the petition states: “Pervis Payne is indisputably intellectually disabled. Mr. Payne meets all three Atkins requirements, as well as those of the Tennessee statute. He has significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, significant adaptive deficits in each domain, and his disability manifested prior to age 18.” (p. 5)

Read Pervis Payne’s Petition to Determine Ineligibility to be Executed here:


State Leaders Call on D.A. Amy Weirich to Stipulate Pervis Payne is a Person with Intellectual Disability

“The motto on the Shelby County District Attorney’s website is ‘Do the right thing every day for the right reason.’ Well, now is the time to do the right thing. D.A. Weirich should join with the Memphis community – her constituents – and agree that Pervis Payne is a person with intellectual disability. As such, his execution would be unconstitutional,” said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who co-sponsored the law to modernize the state’s intellectual disability law.

“We ask you, D.A. Weirich, to stipulate – and not contest – that Mr. Payne is a person with intellectual disability. We invite the District Attorney’s office to join the army of moral arc benders, intent on bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice,” added Rep. Hardaway.

“Mr. Payne has been sitting on death row, wrongfully, for 33 years. Never once did the State challenge the fact that he is a person with intellectual disability. D.A. Weirich should not start now. Litigating this undisputed fact would be a stunning waste of time and taxpayer money,” said Bishop David Allen Hall, Sr., Pastor of the Temple Church Of God In Christ in Memphis.

“D.A. Weirich should not fight the unassailable truth: Mr. Payne has a clear diagnosis of intellectual disability. Mr. Payne never should have been placed on death row. And he should be removed from death row immediately,” said Bishop Jeffrey Leath, AME Church Bishop, 13th Episcopal District (Kentucky and Tennessee).


Pervis Payne Is a Person with Undisputed Intellectual Disability

Educational records, expert findings, and administered tests confirm Mr. Payne’s intellectual challenges. Recent exams by Dr. Daniel Martell, an expert who the State has relied on for its own cases, concluded that his IQ on the WAIS-IV scale is 72 with a functional score of 68.4. Overall, Mr. Payne’s diagnosis of intellectual disability is consistent with standards set by the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the American Psychiatric Association.

In Atkins vs. Virginia, decided in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court found that executing people with intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court explained that persons with intellectual disability are at a “special risk for wrongful execution” and recognized that intellectually disabled defendants are often unable to assist their lawyers and make poor witnesses. These concerns played out in Mr. Payne’s case.

In 2016, the Tennessee Supreme Court acknowledged that Mr. Payne presented undisputed evidence of intellectual disability and that the state has “no interest” in executing a person with intellectual disability. Until today, Tennessee law did not have a process for bringing Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability claim in court.

Widespread Support for Mr. Payne Who has a Strong Innocence Claim

Mr. Payne’s case has all the ingredients of a wrongful conviction and death sentence: he is a Black man with an uncontested intellectual disability who was accused of murdering a white woman in a county with a long history of biased criminal justice, and the State is unable to account for key missing evidence that could help prove his innocence.

More than 740,000 individuals have signed a petition in support of Mr. Payne. That number is climbing toward one million. His case has garnered national and international attention with diverse and broad support from civil rights leaders in Atlanta, Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, and beyond. A powerful coalition of 150 faith, legal, legislative, and community groups in Memphis and across the state of Tennessee have urged Governor Lee to grant clemency for Mr. Payne. Highly respected individuals and organizations across the political spectrum, including former U.S. Circuit Judge and Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr, Martin Luther King III, and bestselling “Just Mercy” author Bryan Stevenson, have also urged the Governor to grant clemency.

A partial list of the individuals and organizations that are urging Governor Lee to grant clemency or have submitted letters in support of Pervis Payne can be viewed at:

Background on Pervis Payne’s case appears here:

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