SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — A Tennessee death row inmate fighting for his own life. His defense team believes new DNA evidence could clear his name.
But Thursday, the Shelby County District Attorney asked the court to deny his request for DNA testing.
A jury convicted Pervis Payne for the 1987 deadly stabbing of Millington mother Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie. Christopher’s three-year-old son Nicholas survived with multiple stab wounds. Payne’s execution is set for December 3, 2020.
During a press conference, District Attorney Amy Weirich said the evidence against Payne speaks for itself.
“[Payne] was seen by police running out of this apartment sweating blood. He puts himself there, his fingerprints were found in the apartment. His hat is on a dead baby’s arm,” said Weirich.
Payne is represented by attorneys with the Innocence Project.
They filed a petition for DNA testing a blood-stained comforter, sheets, and pillow, all of which was discovered by Payne’s attorney in the court clerk’s office last December.
But DA Weirich said this evidence is from a separate murder that happened in Memphis in 1998, a decade after Payne’s conviction.
“The property room made a mistake. These items have nothing to do with Pervis Payne and should not have been shown as a part of this case,” said Weirich.
In a statement to FOX13 Kelley Henry, one of Payne’s attorney said DA Weirich is wrong to oppose the DNA testing. “The police tampered with evidence at the crime scene. They moved the victims’ bodies. If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne,” said Henry’s statement.
Payne’s defense team also wants DNA testing of crime scene evidence including a tampon, a weapon, and potentially a rape kit.
DA Weirich said this same request was made back in 2006 and the courts denied it.
“The court said in the 2006 opinion, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that the DNA testing would come back and it would have somebody else’s DNA on it right? So what - the state was still going to prosecute Mr. Payne because the evidence of his guilt was so overwhelming and because someone else’s DNA on a piece of clothing doesn’t mean anything, we don’t know when it was left behind – there’s no date stamp with DNA,” she said.
In the same statement, Payne’s attorney said “On the law, the da is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006. There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case.”
DA Weirich wants to deny this petition for testing without a hearing.
But now it’s up to a judge if there will decide if there is a hearing or not. It is also unclear if Payne’s December execution could be delayed by this process.
In response to DA Weirich’s motion, Kelley Henry, a member of Mr. Payne’s defense team, made the following statement:
“The District Attorney is wrong to oppose DNA testing in Pervis Payne’s case. She is wrong on both the facts and the law. On the facts, the DA’s assertion that the wrong bag of evidence was handed to Mr. Payne’s attorneys in December 2019 raises more questions than answers. Even putting the bedding aside, there is abundant evidence from the crime scene that could definitively prove that Mr. Payne is innocent. There is a long line of bungling in this case, leading to Mr. Payne’s wrongful conviction. The police tampered with evidence at the crime scene. They moved the victims’ bodies. If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne. On the law, the DA is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006. There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case. The DA should not be citing out of date, overruled cases. It’s now more important than ever that this case get a full hearing before a judge.”
-- Kelley Henry, Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender
Cox Media Group