Attorneys for Pervis Payne seek chance to present intellectual disability claim in court

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FILE – This file photo provided by Tennessee Department of Correction shows Pervis Payne. Shelby County Judge Paula Skahan ruled Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in favor of attorneys for Payne, who had filed a petition in July requesting DNA testing in the long-running case. Payne, is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 3 in Nashville. (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP, File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Attorneys for inmate Pervis Payne have filed a petition asking for the chance to present their client’s intellectual disability claim in court.

The filing comes several weeks after Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation designed to prevent those with an intellectual disability from being executing. Advocates for the bill pointed to Payne, who was sentenced to death in the 1987 fatal stabbings of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter. 

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing a person with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional. However, Tennessee’s Supreme Court later determined there was no procedure for death row inmates to reopen their cases to explore intellectual disability claims until now.

“Pervis Payne is indisputably intellectually disabled,” the new petition reads. “Mr. Payne meets all three Atkins requirements, as well as those of the Tennessee statute. He has significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, significant adaptive deficits in each domain, and his disability manifested prior to age 18.”

According to the attorneys, Shelby County prosecutors and the Tennessee Supreme Court have acknowledged Payne’s intellectual disability with the courts saying they have “no interest” in executing anyone with such disability.

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