NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers have passed legislation designed to prevent death row inmates with an intellectual disability from being executed.
The GOP-supermajority House and Senate passed the bill by wide margins Monday. Governor Bill Lee’s office told WREG on Tuesday that the governor intends to sign it.
Advocates point to inmate Pervis Payne, who attorneys call intellectually disabled as he awaits an execution date.
The law could play a role in halting the execution of Pervis Payne.
“We could not be more pleased,” said Federal public defender Kelley Henry. “Well they (Payne and his family) are obviously relieved because there is the opportunity to get into court on his claim. But of course this is just the first step in our battle to free him and bring him home to his family.”
Henry says she’s confident in her team’s proof on this claim. She says a top expert in the country has evaluated Payne, and concluded he is intellectually disabled.
Payne was convicted more than 30 years ago of stabbing a woman and her two-year-old daughter to death in a Millington apartment.
Payne was convicted of the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter inside of a Millington apartment.
He was scheduled to be executed on December 3, but was issued a temporary reprieve by Gov. Bill Lee.
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.
State Representative G.A. Hardaway explained the proposed law is about due process.
Hardaway collaborated with a host of other lawmakers, attorneys and groups like the Black Caucus and they are working to make sure the language of the bill can withstand scrutiny.
” It was so carefully crafted that we really streamlined the process which delivers a fuller measure of justice,” Hardaway said. ” We’re able to help any and all who engage in the criminal justice system whether it’s death row or not.”