Judge issues order dismissing DNA petition in Pervis Payne case

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Pervis Payne at his murder trial in 1987 (WREG file)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A judge on Monday filed an order dismissing Pervis Payne’s DNA petition.

On July 22, attorneys for the Tennessee death row inmate filed a petition for DNA testing to be performed on several key pieces evidence. The court granted the request in September.

READ: Pervis Payne DNA Final Order

The results from that testing were revealed in court Jan. 19. Payne’s defense team presented evidence they say showed DNA from another male on a knife handle at the crime scene. The DNA was too degraded to identify an alternate suspect, but attorneys said it was consistent with Payne’s claims of innocence.

But Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan said last week that nothing in the evidence exonerated Payne, and dismissed the petition for further DNA analysis.

Skahan’s written court order on the case was released Monday:

“The Court concludes the results are not favorable to Mr. Payne. The Petitioner argues the absence of his DNA from several of the items tested supports his trial testimony, but Mr. Payne’s DBA is not entirely absent from the apartment,” the judge wrote. “not only does Mr. Payne’s DNA appear on a washcloth taken from the victim’s apartment, but Mr. Payne also cannot be excluded as a contributor to DNA found on a tampon found near Charisse Christopher’s body.”

Furthermore, the testing did not “establish that anyone other than the victims and Mr. Payne were present in the victims’ apartment at the time of the offenses.”

“In short, had these DNA testing results been available at trial, such results would not have been sufficient to undermine confidence in the verdict and sentence returned by the jury considering the other evidence presented at trial inculpating the petitioner,” she concluded.

Attorneys with the Innocence Project noted that Skahan’s order should not be viewed as a comment on the merits of future litigation Mr. Payne may bring in the future.”

They released a statement expressing frustration that some evidence such as fingernail clippings that could have been submitted for DNA testing was now missing, but acknowledged that there was nothing further to test at this time.

District Attorney General Amy Weirich released a statement after last Tuesday’s hearing, saying, “The evidence of Payne’s guilt was and still is overwhelming. The jurors declared so with their verdict in 1988. Countless appellate courts have said it since. Partial unidentified DNA on the handle of the murder weapon is a false mystery. It could have come from any one at any time – before or after the murders.”

Payne was convicted in the 1987 deaths of Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter inside a Millington apartment. He was scheduled to be executed on December 3, but was granted a temporary reprieve by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee due to the pandemic.

The reprieve will end in April 2021.

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