MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Attorneys for Pervis Payne, a man set to die by lethal injection for the 1987 murders of a mother and her daughter, are asking Gov. Bill Lee for clemency on grounds that, as a person with intellectual disability, Payne’s execution would be unconstitutional.
A growing number of 150 Tennessee faith, legal, civic and grassroots supporters also submitted letters asking the governor for mercy.
Payne’s attorneys also argue that racism contributed to his wrongful conviction and death sentence. His execution is scheduled for Dec. 3.
Payne was convicted of stabbing Millington mother Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie, to death in 1987. Christopher’s 3-year-old son, Nicholas, was also stabbed but survived.
Over 120 congregations from multiple faiths in Tennessee wrote Lee saying, “[T]he judicial and legislative branches of the Tennessee government have abdicated any responsibility for ensuring Mr. Payne is not unconstitutionally executed. That leaves you, and you alone, with the power to prevent this miscarriage of justice by granting clemency to Pervis Payne.”
The application for executive clemency includes some of the following statements on Payne’s behalf:
“[Y]ou can use your power to grant clemency to Mr. Payne and show mercy to this vulnerable man who, by today’s legal standards and by our timeless faith beliefs, should not be facing death at the hands of the State,” Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope wrote.
“Governor Lee, the process has failed Mr. Payne. The question of his innocence is deeply concerning, but equally so is the fact that Pervis Payne has an intellectual disability. His execution would be contrary to the conservative principles we hold,” Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty wrote.
“[T]he Shelby County prosecutors concocted a story of a drug-addled and sex-crazed Black man preying on a defenseless white woman. This narrative played to deeply held racist stereotypes in a county with a notorious history of lynching Black men for perceived insults to the ‘honor’ of white women. It is hard to imagine that these themes did not have an unfair impact on the jury that sentenced Mr. Payne to death,” Tennessee State Conference NAACP wrote.
Twelve civil rights, legal and civic groups, including the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association, the Memphis Bar Association, the Tennessee Association of Black Lawyers and the NAACP Memphis, wrote, “[I]n this time of long-overdue racial reconciliation, it is all the more apparent that we must not let racial stereotypes or implicit biases prevent us from recognizing an injustice or taking action to correct it.”
Other groups adding individual letters of support include the Tennessee Disability Coalition, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, Bishop David Allen Hall, Bridge City Community Church, ACLU TN, Just City Memphis, The Justice Initiative and Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Payne’s legal team is scheduled to meet with Lee’s office Oct. 27. More than 130,000 people have signed a petition at www.pervispayne.org on the Innocence Project’s website.