Gov. Bill Lee grants temporary reprieve for Pervis Payne

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee governor Bill Lee has granted temporary reprieve for Tennessee death row inmate Pervis Payne.

“I am granting Pervis Payne a temporary reprieve from execution until April 9, 2021, due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Payne was convicted of the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter. Payne is accused of killing them inside of a Millington apartment.

He was scheduled to be executed on December 3.

Payne’s lawyer, Kelley Henry, released a statement on the decision, saying in part, “Governor Lee was right to delay Pervis Payne’s execution due to the Covid-19 crisis. Bringing witnesses into the prison is unsafe for them, the staff, and the prisoners.”

Payne’s lawyers and supporters have maintained that he is innocent. In September, a judge granted Payne’s motion requesting additional analysis of DNA found at the scene of the murders.

In October, Payne’s lawyers sent the governor a petition asking him to at least postpone his execution until lawmakers can fix a loophole that prevents him from presenting evidence of intellectual disability in court.

Read the full statement from attorney Kelley Henry:

“Governor Lee was right to delay Pervis Payne’s execution due to the Covid-19 crisis. Bringing witnesses into the prison is unsafe for them, the staff, and the prisoners. This additional time will give the Tennessee Legislature the opportunity to pass bi-partisan legislation to allow Mr. Payne’s and others’ claims of intellectual disability to be heard in court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that the execution of people with intellectual disability is unconstitutional. Currently, there is no process for people with intellectual disability in Mr. Payne’s procedural posture to have their claims heard in court. We are grateful to Rep. G.A. Hardaway and the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators for filing bi-partisan legislation to create such a procedure.”

“This additional time will also allow us to investigate Mr. Payne’s strong innocence claim, together with the Innocence Project. We are grateful to the 150 faith, legal, legislative, and community groups in Memphis and across the state that support clemency for Mr. Payne. Together with Mr. Payne’s family, we will continue the fight to prove Mr. Payne’s innocence.”

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