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

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MILLINGTON, Tenn. — A Millington man on death row believes newly discovered DNA evidence can exonerate him.

Pervis Payne, 53, was convicted of fatally stabbing a woman and her 2-year-old daughter more than 30 years ago. His attorneys filed a request Wednesday 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.

Vanessa Potkin, one of Payne’s attorneys, works with the Innocence Project, an organization that tries to get wrongful convictions overturned.

“Mr. Payne has consistently maintained for three decades that he’s innocent,” Potkin said. “If we do DNA testing today, we can not only prove Pervis is innocent but identify the person who did the crime.”

Prosecutors said Payne killed Charisse Christopher and her daughter Lacie by stabbing them to death at their Millington apartment in 1987. They also said he stabbed Charisse’s 3-year-old son Nicholas, who survived. 

Payne claims he tried to help the victims. He said he was visiting his girlfriend when he heard screams from the nearby apartment. Potkin said Payne got scared and ran when police arrived.

“At the time, (he) was a 20-year-old black man who finds himself at a homicide scene with three white victims,” Potkin said.

Payne claims he saw a man with bloody clothes leaving the complex as he was arriving, and Potkin said the newly discovered bloody sheets could be the key to discovering the truth. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said her office is preparing a response to the request for DNA testing.

“We’re fairly confident that they will not oppose because it is something that ought to be done as a matter of law and certainly as a matter of justice before the state seeks to execute anyone,” Potkin said.

Payne is currently scheduled to be executed in December.

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