Court orders DNA testing of crime scene evidence in Pervis Payne death penalty case

Pervis Payne The Innocense Project
Image source: The Innocence Project/PervisPayne.Org

Pervis Payne, a Black man with intellectual disability convicted of a capital crime and is scheduled to be executed by the State of Tennessee on December 3, received a glimmer of hope on Wednesday.

The Shelby County Criminal Court granted a petition by Pervis Payne for a post-conviction DNA analysis of crime scene evidence that was never tested to prove that he was wrongfully convicted of a capital crime that he did not commit.

The State of Tennessee argued that Pervis Payne has not established that he is entitled to post-conviction DNA testing. The Court disagreed.

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“Having conducted a hearing and after reviewing the parties’ filings and the relevant authorities, the Court concludes the Petitioner has established he is entitled to DNA testing. Accordingly, the petition is GRANTED…” the Court ruled.

Pervis Payne was convicted because he is an intellectually disabled Blackman

For 33 years, Pervis Payne maintained he was innocent of the brutal crime that occurred in Millington, Tennessee in June 1987. He claimed that he was just an innocent bystander waiting for his girlfriend at her apartment when he heard noises across the hall. He went to try to help and found a bloody scene—her girlfriend’s neighbor, Charisse Christopher, and her children were brutally attacked.

The police exclusively focused its investigation on him because he was on the crime scene even if he told officers that he saw a man fleeing. They did not investigate other suspects including the victim’s violent ex-husband.

In a petition for Pervis Payne, his lawyers argued that someone close to the victim committed the brutal attack. They stated that evidence showed that it was a crime of rage.

Additionally, his lawyers pointed out that the prosecution’s case relied on racial stereotypes and fears. Prosecutors argued that Pervis Payne is a Black man who had taken drugs, was looking for sex, attacked and killed the victims, a white woman, and her two-year-old daughter, and fatally-stabbed her four-year-old son.

DNA testing could provide scientific proof to exonerate Pervis Payne

Furthermore, Pervis Payne’s lawyers argued that numerous pieces of crime scene evidence were never tested for DNA including a knife, a tampon, fingernail clippings, and bloodstained items. They noted that the fingernail clippings maybe the most important pieces of untested evidence because the prosecution stated in the trial that the victim scratched Pervis Payne.

DNA testing was not available during the trial of the case against Pervis Payne and has not been performed since. The Court’s ruling ordering DNA testing of crime scene evidence could provide scientific proof of the real attacker’s identity and exonerate him.

According to his lawyers, Pervis Payne had no prior history before being convicted of a capital crime. He is intellectually disabled, which is partly the reason he was convicted. At the time of his trial, he failed to help his attorneys in making a defense him and he made a poor witness for himself because of his intellectual disability.

On September 14, Pervis Payne’s legal team filed a complaint to prevent the State of Tennessee from carrying out his execution on December 3.

Court’s decision ordering DNA testing is thoughtful and reasonable

Vanessa Potkin, Director of Director of Post-Conviction Litigation at The Innocence Project and a member of Pervis Payne’s legal team, commented on the Court’s ruling on Wednesday.

“The court’s thoughtful and reasoned decision to order DNA testing in Pervis Payne’s case is just and in line with Tennessee’s clear DNA testing law. When DNA evidence exists in a death penalty case, as it does here, it should always be tested to avoid the irreversible act of executing an innocent man. Mr. Payne never should have been put on death row because he has an intellectual disability. The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disability, making the State’s pursuit of Mr. Payne’s execution all the more appalling,” she said in a statement.


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