Tennessee death row inmate seeks clemency from Gov. Bill Lee

Pervis Payne is scheduled to be executed December 3. File Photo courtesy of
Pervis Payne is scheduled to be executed December 3. File Photo courtesy of

Oct. 7 (UPI) -- A death row inmate who says new DNA testing could prove his innocence has asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for clemency less than two months before his scheduled execution.

Pervis Payne, 52, is sentenced to die Dec. 3 for the murder of Charisse Christopher and her daughter, Lacie Jo, in 1987. Prosecutors said he also non-fatally wounded Christopher's then-3-year-old son, Nicholas.


In a clemency application filed Monday, Payne asked that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison. Failing that, he asked for a reprieve from his execution date until he can present case that he should be spared the death penalty because he's intellectually disabled.

His petition says "there is simply too much doubt in this case to permit an execution."

The Shelby County Criminal Court last month ordered DNA testing on items recently discovered in the court's clerk's office.

Payne's lawyers said the items have never been subjected to DNA testing because his initial trial occurred when such technology wasn't available. They 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.


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.

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.

Prosecutors had asked the Shelby County court to deny Payne's request for DNA testing, saying that since it came four months before his scheduled execution, it was designed to delay it. They also said that even if testing provided new evidence, it would not have created a reasonable probability that Payne wouldn't have been convicted for the murders.

More than 150 Tennessee faith, legal and civil rights groups have also petitioned Lee to grant clemency in Pervis' case.


"Governor Lee, the process has failed Mr. Payne. The question of his innocence is deeply concerning, but equally so is the fact that Pervis Payne has an intellectual disability. His execution would be contrary to the conservative principles we hold," wrote Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty in the clemency application.

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