Pervis Payne’s Execution Reprieve Has Expired — Here’s What That Means
Pervis Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability, has spent 33 years on death row.
04.01.21 By Daniele Selby
Updated on April 12: Pervis Payne’s stay of execution has now expired. No new execution date has been set, but the Supreme Court of Tennessee can set one at any time.
Pervis Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability, has spent 33 years on death row in Tennessee. And for 33 years, he has consistently said the same thing — he did not commit the crime for which has been sentenced to die.
Last year, Mr. Payne came close to being executed despite living with an intellectual disability, which would make it unconstitutional for the State to kill him. With less than a month before his Dec. 3, 2020, execution date, Mr. Payne was granted a temporary reprieve of execution by Governor Bill Lee, who attributed the delay to “challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mr. Payne’s reprieve is set to end on April 9, making the need to fight for justice in his case all the more urgent.
What happens next?
Once the temporary reprieve expires, the Tennessee Supreme Court can assign Mr. Payne a new execution date, meaning his life is still at risk. However, the governor has the power to commute his sentence. A powerful coalition that includes 150 faith, legal, legislative, and community groups across the state of Tennessee has voiced its support for clemency for Mr. Payne, whose case has all the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction — an intellectual disability, racial bias, and crucial missing evidence.
People with intellectual disabilities are at “special risk for wrongful execution,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court, and executing someone with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional. And though the Tennessee Supreme Court has acknowledged that Mr. Payne had previously presented undisputed evidence of his intellectual disability, currently, there is no procedural mechanism to allow him to present his claims in state court where the appropriate action in his case could be taken. But, right now, lawmakers are considering legislation first introduced by the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators that would create a process for Mr. Payne and others with intellectual disability claims to present them in state court.
If it passes, Mr. Payne will have a chance to present his claim and show that he never should have been on death row in the first place.