TN legislation could allow death row inmates to make intellectual disability appeals in court

MEMPHIS, TENN. — A Memphis man facing death may have a chance to avoid the execution chamber after new legislation passed both chambers of the Tennessee legislature.

Pervis Payne was convicted and sent to death row for the 1987 murder of a woman and her daughter in Millington.

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His lawyers have since presented evidence showing he has an IQ in the intellectually disabled range and they say this legislation is a major development for his case.

Tennessee lawmakers passed this legislation with the idea it would prevent executions for death row inmates with intellectual disabilities.

“We know that people with intellectual disability are at higher risk for execution so by removing the death sentence from an individual who is intellectually disability we can prevent that risk at least in those case,” said Payne’s attorney Kelley Henry, who is also the supervisory assistant federal public defender

It passed with bi-partisan support, by wide margins, and now heads to the Governor’s desk.

Henry said this bill would bring Tennessee law into line with the U.S. supreme court’s nearly two-decades old ruling barring the execution of people with intellectual disability.

“What this bill does it wipes away all those procedural technicalities and says these individuals and there aren’t very many,” she said. “But those who have the claim can get into court, have their claim heard, and then it will decided and the case will move on one way or another and that benefits everyone.”

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If signed into law, Payne would have a chance to make his case, allowing the court to examine his intellectual competency.

“This bill will help to ensure that the state of Tennessee does not wrongfully execute an innocent person,” said Henry in a statement.

Payne has maintained his innocence.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said Payne has had his chance in state and federal court to claim an intellectual disability and Weirich said he hasn’t.

“As one federal judge stated in 2018, that decision is ‘perhaps unsurprising because his I.Q. scores over several decades did not appear to demonstrate that he met the first factor for intellectual disability under Tennessee’s statute.’ This new law will result in last-ditch efforts by convicted murderers and unnecessary delay for victims,” said Weirich in a statement to FOX13.

A spokeswoman from Governor Bill Lee’s office said he plans to sign the legislation as soon as it comes to his desk. During his term, Lee has not granted anyone clemency.