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Pervis Payne to be assessed for intellectual disability

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 6:16 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Pervis Payne, a Tennessee inmate on death row, has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years after being convicted of killing Charisse Christopher and her son Nicholas in 1987.

Friday, Payne’s defense team and supporters say they got one step closer to getting Payne off death row.

Dozens of supporters got up early Friday to gather outside 201 Poplar to support Payne. Payne’s lawyer was happy with the court decision, but says there is no time to waste.

Payne’s case has gathered strong support in the Memphis community and nationwide. It was evident early Friday morning when dozens of people came alongside Payne’s family to pray before a scheduled court hearing.

“The fact that you are showing up, representing this community shows that the community of Shelby County still supports Pervis Payne,” said Payne’s attorney, Kelly Henry.

Payne, who his defense attorneys say is intellectually disabled, claims he was wrongfully convicted and given the death penalty in the double murder case of a woman and her child in 1987, which supporters believe had racial biases.

In May, the Tennessee legislature overwhelming passed a bill retroactively prohibiting the execution of intellectually disabled people without an application deadline.

Friday, a Shelby County Judge ruled Payne will be assessed by a mental health expert hired by the state to determine if he is mentally disabled.

“We are confident that they are going to conclude that we are correct and that Mr. Payne is a person who subjected to intellectual disability, and therefore should not be on death row,” said Henry.

“I’ve been praying for this almost 34 years,” said Payne’s father, Carl Payne.

A new court date is scheduled for December 13 and time is critical, according to Payne’s attorney since he is eligible for a new execution date at any time. Only the Tennessee Supreme Court can issue a stay of execution.

District Attorney Amy Weirich issued this statement following the decision:

“While the law has barred the death penalty for the intellectually disabled since the early nineties, Payne’s lawyers chose not to raise the issue during the time period originally set by the legislature. The new law removes that deadline and allows the defense to file the claim which now will be decided in a court hearing. While the focus now will be on the defendant, I hope no one ever forgets the innocent victims in this case - Charisse Christopher and her two small children.”

Payne’s family, attorneys, and supporters maintain that Payne is innocent and should not only be off death row, but out of jail entirely.

They say they will continue fighting until Payne’s conviction is overturned.

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