News 11.07.20

Pervis Payne Granted Temporary Reprieve of Execution

Pervis Payne, who has an intellectual disability, was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 3.

By Daniele Selby

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

Governor Bill Lee granted Pervis Payne a temporary reprieve of his execution until April 9, 2021. In a statement released on Friday, Gov. Lee said Mr. Payne’s execution, originally scheduled for Dec. 3, would be delayed due to “challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mr. Payne, who has an intellectual disability, was convicted of the 1987 murder of Charisse Christopher and her daughter, and was just weeks away from being executed.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court both hold that the execution of people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional, there is currently no process in Tennessee for convicted people with intellectual disabilities, like Mr. Payne, to have their disability claims heard in court.

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators announced legislation to address that and create a process to have claims heard.

“We are grateful to Rep. G.A. Hardaway and the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators for filing bi-partisan legislation to create such a procedure,” said Kelley Henry of the Federal Public Defenders, who represents Mr. Payne.

Mr. Payne has been on death row for nearly 32 years without evidence from his case being tested for DNA. In September, lawyers from the Innocence Project and the Milbank firm — won the right to test the evidence, though some of the most critical evidence in the case has been “lost” by the State including the victim’s fingernail clippings.

Mr. Payne’s legal team is continuing to pursue justice in his case, and has asked Gov. Lee to commute his sentence in light of his intellectual disability.

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