District Attorney asking court to deny request for DNA testing in Pervis Payne death penalty case

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich says her office is asking a court to deny a request for new DNA testing in the case of a Millington man convicted more than 30 years ago.

“There is no new evidence and they are merely trying to delay his scheduled execution,” Weirich said.

Pervis Payne, 53, was convicted of fatally stabbing Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter Lacie at their Millington apartment in 1987. They also said he stabbed Charisse’s three-year-old son Nicholas, who survived. 

Payne was sentenced to death in 1998. He is scheduled to be executed December 3.

Payne’s attorneys filed a request recently asking that a bag of bloody bed sheets be tested for DNA. The sheets were found by federal public defenders who searched through Shelby County evidence storage in December 2019.

But Weirich said the bloody sheets were actually collected from a different crime on Meda Street in 1998, and had no relation to Payne’s case.

“The property room made a mistake,” said Weirich, adding, “that bag was near the Pervis Payne boxes on the shelves in the property room.”

Payne’s Nashville-based public defender Kelley Henry said she plans to conduct her own investigation to determine whether or not the bedding is connected to her client’s case. She said Thursday was the first time it came into question.

“The district attorney general has been aware of our discovery for over seven months and yet chose to wait to the middle of a press conference without giving us any advance notice to make her surprise announcement,” said Henry.

But even were Henry to accept that the bedding has no relevance to Payne’s case, she says there’s other evidence that should be tested for DNA.

“It’s shocking to me that the district attorney general would oppose DNA testing of things like the murder weapon,” said Henry.

But Weirich says DNA evidence wouldn’t make any difference, even if it didn’t match Payne’s DNA. She said there’s too much other evidence proving his guilt.

“He was seen by police running out of this apartment sweating blood. He puts himself there. His fingerprints were found in the apartment. His hat is on a dead baby’s arm,” said Weirich.

“DNA testing would not exonerate the defendant, yet the defense has waited 14 years to pursue a second request for testing,” she added. “Delaying the filing of a second petition for this long shows the true defense motive is to delay the execution.”

Payne, whose attorneys say has an IQ of only 72, claims he tried to help the victims. He said he was visiting his girlfriend when he heard screams from the nearby apartment. His attorney said Payne got scared and ran when police arrived.

“He got scared. He wanted to help, but he knew that they were going to think it was him, and guess what, they did. So he ran from the scene,” said Henry, who noted Payne had no prior criminal history and has maintained his innocence for 30 years.

Following Weirich’s announcement, Henry released the following statement:

“The District Attorney is wrong to oppose DNA testing in Pervis Payne’s case. She is wrong on both the facts and the law. On the facts, the DA’s assertion that the wrong bag of evidence was handed to Mr. Payne’s attorneys in December 2019 raises more questions than answers. Even putting the bedding aside, there is abundant evidence from the crime scene that could definitively prove that Mr. Payne is innocent. There is a long line of bungling in this case, leading to Mr. Payne’s wrongful conviction. The police tampered with evidence at the crime scene. They moved the victims’ bodies. If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne. On the law, the DA is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006. There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case. The DA should not be citing out of date, overruled cases. It’s now more important than ever that this case get a full hearing before a judge.”

Should a judge rule against Payne, his attorneys say they plan to file an appeal.

Read More: Millington man on death row hopes new DNA evidence will exonerate him

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