MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Pervis Payne is no longer on death row. He will serve two consecutive life sentences for the murder of a Millington mother and her young daughter in 1987.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich made the announcement Thursday.
Payne, 53, has maintained his innocence in the murders of Charisse Christopher, 28, and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo, who were found stabbed to death inside their home. Charisse Christopher had more than 80 knife wounds, according to investigators. Three-year-old Nicholas Christopher survived his numerous stab wounds after undergoing multiple surgeries.
Payne’s DNA was found on multiple items at the crime scene, including a paper towel bundle and a washcloth. An officer also saw Payne run down the stairs at the apartment as he arrived at the scene.
In 1988, a Criminal Court jury convicted Payne on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of assault to commit first-degree murder. The jury sentenced Payne to death for each murder. He also received 30 years in prison for the assault.
For 34 years the conviction and death sentences have been reviewed many times including by both the Tennessee Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Payne’s execution was delayed while his lawyers attempted to prove his innocence, but DNA tests and arguments by the defense failed to exonerate him.
During that time the laws regarding alleged intellectual disability as it relates to the death penalty changed. Payne’s defense argued that he is intellectually disabled, and thus under the law cannot be executed.
Payne’s case garnered national attention, with rallies and protests taking place recently to support him.
Records show Payne’s IQ at the time of his 1988 trial was measured at 78.
D.A. Weirich said a state expert examined Payne and available records, and could not say Payne’s intellectual functioning is outside the range for intellectual disability.
“We received this information last week, thoroughly reviewed the findings, and we met with the victims’ family this week to explain the current reality with which we are now faced. The family was not happy, but they understand,” Weirich stated. “We can’t change the facts and we can’t change the law. So today, after weighing the totality of circumstances, we have filed notice with the Criminal Court that the state is hereby withdrawing its request for a hearing on the issue of intellectual disability. This means that the death penalty for Pervis Payne will be removed and replaced with two consecutive sentences of life in prison for the murders of Charisse and Lacie Christopher.”
Kelley Henry, Pervis Payne’s Attorney, made the following statement:
“As a person with intellectual disability, Pervis Payne cannot be executed under our Constitution. We are grateful to the Tennessee legislature, under Rep. G.A. Hardaway’s leadership, for passing a new law to allow Mr. Payne to present evidence of his intellectual disability in court, and to Governor Lee for signing the bill into law. The Shelby County District Attorney was right to drop its request for a hearing on Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability. The D.A.’s concession will avoid years of needless litigation.
“We look forward to Mr. Payne’s resentencing hearing. This is some measure of justice for Mr. Payne and his family, but our fight for full exoneration of this innocent man will continue.”
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