Lawyers: DNA testing could prove Tennessee death row inmate's innocence

Lawyers: DNA testing could prove Tennessee death row inmate's innocence
Pervis Payne was given the death penalty for the 1987 death of a Tennessee woman and her 2-year-old daughter. File Photo courtesy of

July 22 (UPI) -- Lawyers for a Tennessee death row inmate convicted of killing a woman and her 2-year-old daughter said newly uncovered DNA evidence could prove their client's innocence, according to a petition filed Wednesday.

Pervis Payne, 53, was sentenced to death for the deaths of Charisse Christopher, 28, and her daughter, Lacie Jo, in 1987 in Shelby County. Prosecutors said he also non-fatally wounded Christopher's 3-year-old son, Nicholas.


He's scheduled to be executed Dec. 3.

Payne has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years and his lawyers say they recently discovered evidence in the Shelby County Criminal Court clerk's office that could exonerate him.

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The items, they said, have never been subjected to DNA testing because his initial trial occurred when such technology wasn't available. Payne's attorneys, who include representatives from the Innocence Project, accused the state of illegally hiding the evidence in the meantime.

The items included bed linens and clothing with blood stains, fingernail clippings and a potential rape kit. The evidence was collected from a bedroom in Christopher's apartment, though at the time, prosecutors said the kitchen was the only crime scene.

"The presence of DNA belonging to someone other than Mr. Payne would support the consistent story that he has told for more than 30 years: He was an innocent bystander who came upon the crime scene," said Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project's post-conviction litigation director.

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At the time of the slayings, Payne was dating Christopher's neighbor. He told police he found the victims' bodies after hearing calls for help, but investigators said he committed the crimes because he was on drugs and was looking for sex. They accused him of sexually assaulting Christopher, though she was found fully clothed.

Payne was never tested for drugs after his arrest.

Defense attorneys said that once prosecutors targeted him as the suspect, they never investigated any other suspects, including Christopher's ex-husband who allegedly had a violent past.

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The attorneys said racial bias, hidden evidence and Payne's intellectual disability prevented him from receiving a fair trial. They said prosecutors relied on stereotypes of Black men and drug use, and pointed out Christopher's "white skin" to the jury.

The petition asks for expedited DNA testing to prove Payne's innocence less than five months before his execution date.

"The forensic testing that Mr. Payne seeks can be performed in less than 60 days and is capable of demonstrating what he has consistently maintained for three decades," the petition says. "He is innocent."

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The office of Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said it received the petition Tuesday.

"We are reviewing his allegations and preparing a response."


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